France, Britain and West Germany have proposed informal talks with the Reagan administration over American complaints that the Europeans are using unfair practices to sell Airbus planes, U.S. and West European government officials have disclosed.
The proposal is contained in letters to be delivered this week to U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter and apparently is aimed at heading off possible U.S. retaliation against Airbus Industrie, the European aircraft consortium.
Boeing Co. has contended that the governments in the consortium, particularly France, regularly sweeten their bids to potential customers by promising such advantages as new landing rights for national carriers, substantial aid packages to developing countries and unusually attractive financing for Airbus purchases.
"We deny allegations about so-called inducements to aircraft sales by Airbus, but we also explain we are ready to discuss all the issues, including subsidies," said an adviser to Edith Cresson, France's minister for industry and foreign trade.
Cresson, along with Geoffrey Pattie, Britain's industry minister, and Martin Bangemann, West Germany's economics minister, sent separate but virtually identical letters to Yeutter.
The European proposal to hold talks was seen in Washington as an indication that President Reagan's more aggressive trade policy is bearing fruit. Airbus was a potential target for White House retaliation in response to complaints that American companies are being hurt by other countries' unfair trade practices.
Taiwan already has agreed to open its market to more sales of American beer, wine and cigarettes because it was faced with the threat of an unfair-trade investigation by the Reagan administration. In another case, South Korea last week lifted restrictions on the distribution of American films when faced with an unfair-trade complaint from the U.S. movie industry.
Yeutter praised the Korean decision and said "it demonstrates that President Reagan's aggressive approach to unfair trading practices is paying dividends. We believe that it is better to open markets through negotiations than to close them with protectionism."
The U.S. case against Airbus is based on allegations by Boeing, a major American competitor, that the West European consortium has been competing unfairly for well over a decade through the use of government subsidies and political inducements to sell its plane.
Administration officials in Washington and Boeing executives in Seattle reacted favorably to the West European proposal. No agenda or schedule has been set, but both sides agreed that talks could begin in early January. West European officials suggested that they be held at the sub-Cabinet level.
"We would welcome an opportunity to talk with the Europeans because all the allegations about Airbus and increasing pressures around here to do something about Airbus are getting out of control," an administration trade official said Friday in a telephone interview from Washington.
"None of the cases of inducements have yet been proven, but the continuous repetition of what Airbus is and supposedly does to get sales orders can no longer be ignored," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Sources said that, despite the European proposal for talks, Washington still is considering retaliation against Airbus. Similar action also is being considered against West Germany's government telecommunications agency and the Brazilian aerospace industry because of allegations that they compete unfairly or discriminate against U.S. companies.
Washington already has vowed to penalize imports of the next generation of Japanese semiconductors if the government finds that Japan is selling existing chips in the United States at below market value.
The Reagan administration considers a test case to be the bidding for an All Nippon Airways Co. contract for 15 wide-body jets to replace its Lockheed L1011 fleet.
Boeing and Airbus have submitted proposals.
All Nippon said in April 1984 that it had decided to consider the Airbus A-300-600 after having signed an option to buy 15 Boeing 767-200s. The price of both manufacturers' planes has been estimated at about $70 million each, making the transaction worth as much as $1 billion.
"The Airbus proposals reflect their government subsidies, which are among their practices we regularly hear about and consider unfair competition," said Thomas Riedinger, a Boeing marketing director.
"We are very familiar with Boeing's allegations, but we believe the Airbus best meets All Nippon's requirements," said an Airbus executive who declined to be identified. "If we win, it will be a major victory for European industry, so no wonder Boeing is nervous."
"We know that the U.S. authorities also help Boeing on sales contracts around the world," Cresson's adviser said. "It is a complex world."
Reidinger countered by saying that "in every country, Airbus starts with the government and works down to the airline, whereas we and others start with the airline and work up."