Boeing last night confirmed holding talks to buy Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer in a deal that is thought to value the company at far more than its $3.7 billion stock market value.

The disclosure came hours after Boeing won a US government ruling setting down punitive 300% import tariffs on any aircraft Embraer’s arch-rival Bombardier of Canada tries to sell into the US.

Bombardier has 4,000 staff in Belfast and is Northern Ireland’s largest private employer. Wings for the C-Series aircraft are built there and about 25% of the staff are involved in the project.

Boeing brought its trade case after Bombardier signed a heavily discounted multibillion-dollar deal to sell its new 100 to 150-seat C Series to Delta Air Lines.

The trade case could have endangered the C Series and sent Bombardier into deeper losses had it not been for an 11th-hour intervention by Boeing’s global rival Airbus, which agreed a deal to take a majority stake in the C Series programme.

Airbus said it would build the C Series for the US market at its factory in Alabama, thereby getting round the import duties.

Boeing said: “The Boeing Company and Embraer confirmed the two companies are engaged in discussions regarding a potential combination, the basis of which remains under discussion.

“There is no guarantee a transaction will result from these discussions.

“Boeing and Embraer do not intend to make any additional comments regarding these discussions.

“Any transaction would be subject to the approval of the Brazilian government and regulators, the two
companies’ boards and Embraer’s shareholders.”