EU will listen to concerns of business, says Northern Ireland trade chief

Michael McHugh, PA

Powerful voices in Brussels will listen to Northern Ireland’s business concerns following Brexit, a leading trade representative has said.

Ann McGregor said agreeing better ties with the EU could smooth challenges over supplies from Great Britain and produce more compromises.

The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry met European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday to iron out trading problems linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Maros Sefcovic
Maros Sefcovic (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She said: “We agreed to keep the conversation going, with the appropriately powerful vehicle to address the wider challenges that we are raising.

“We felt listened to but also we felt that we agreed on actions that will enable us to continue to overcome barriers for our businesses.”

The commission committed to establishing a business reference group for Northern Ireland to help raise issues and find solutions at senior levels, Ms McGregor said.

She added: “It means that we will be speaking to people with the ability to change things.”

She said officials already had a British vehicle for inputting concerns, through Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove’s office, but a lot of the problems were not within his gift.

Ms McGregor stressed the commitment of her members to the protocol and the system to deal with the consequences of Brexit.

“We emphasised that as business organisations we were doing our best to help businesses make the protocol work and that there are considerable barriers at this stage.”

She said those included gaps in IT and remodelling work required to change supply chains.

“Northern Ireland businesses need more time, we asked for an extension to the derogations (soft touch regulation grace periods).

“We asked for problems caused by lack of preparedness of Great Britain businesses, people not delivering because they were not set up to do the paperwork.

“We are experiencing that on a wider EU stage, where companies are not supplying Northern Ireland or are confused about Northern Ireland because they are unprepared.”

She asked the commission to supply a single source of information and guidance to be translated and shared with other member states.

Ms McGregor said companies in the meat and dairy sector were being asked by European counterparts for certificates that were not required.

She said there were benefits to the protocol for attracting inward investment and export opportunities.

“There are opportunities but these are in the shadow of the challenges and they are in the shadow of the real concerns on the ground that are very obvious.”

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