Defense Trade:

European Initiatives to Integrate the Defense Market

NSIAD-98-6: Published: Oct 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the changes that have taken place in the European defense market over the past 5 years, focusing on: (1) what actions European governments and industry have taken to unify the European defense market; (2) how key European countries' defense procurement practices have affected U.S. defense companies' ability to compete on major weapons competitions in Europe; and (3) how the U.S. government and industry have adapted their policies or practices to the changing European defense environment. GAO's review focused on the buying practices of five European countries--France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

GAO noted that: (1) pressure to develop a unified European armament procurement policy and related industrial base is increasing, as most nations can no longer afford to develop and procure defense items solely form their own domestic companies; (2) European governments have taken several initiatives to integrate the defense market, including the formation of two new organizations to improve armament cooperation; (3) European government officials remain committed to cooperative programs, which have long been the impetus for cross-border defense cooperation at the industry level; (4) some European defense companies are initiating cross-border mergers that are not tied to government cooperative programs; (5) although some progress toward regionalization is occurring, European government and industry officials told GAO that national sovereignty issues and complex ownership structures may inhibit European defense consolidation from occurring to the extent that is needed to be competitive; (6) until European governments agree on a unified armament policy, individual European countries will retain their own procurement policies; (7) like the United States, European countries tend to purchase major defense equipment from their domestic companies when such options exist; (8) when national options do not exist, key European countries vary in their willingness to buy major U.S. weapon systems; (9) trans-Atlantic industrial partnerships appear to be evolving more readily than trans-Atlantic cooperative programs that are led by governments; (10) U.S. defense companies have established these trans-Atlantic partnerships largely to maintain market access in Europe; (11) U.S. defense company officials say they cannot export major defense items to Europe without involving European defense companies in the production of those items; (12) some U.S. defense companies are seeking long-term partnerships with European companies to develop a defense product line that will meet requirements in Europe or other defense markets; (13) they believe such industrial interdependence can also help counter any efforts toward U.S. or European protectionism and may increase trans-Atlantic defense trade; and (14) the U.S. government has taken several steps over the last few years to improve defense trade and trans-Atlantic cooperation, but some observers point to practical and cultural impediments that affect U.S.-European cooperation on major weapon programs.

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