24 May 2022

"Outrageous" not to market NI Protocol to the world

Derry Chamber of Commerce President, Aidan O'Kane, says Central Statistics Office figures showing increased exports and imports between the North and the Republic of Ireland demonstrate how the post-Brexit Protocol is benefiting the region

"Outrageous" not to market NI Protocol to the world

Derry Chamber of Commerce President, Aidan O'Kane: "A hard land border would have been disastrous – there is no doubt about it."

Missing the opportunity to market the Northern Ireland Protocol to the world would be “outrageous” says Derry Chamber of Commerce President, Aidan O'Kane.

Figures published yesterday by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the Republic of Ireland show that cross-border trade between the North and the South is booming.

Imports from the North to the Republic for last year were up by a staggering 65 per cent to 3.9billion euros – a jump of 1.5billion from 2020.

Exports from the Republic to the North also increased in 2021 by 54 per cent to 3.7billion euros – a rise of 1.3billion from the previous year. Overall, the total trade rise came to 2.8billion euros.

CSO figures showed that food, livestock and fuel were the biggest cross-border commodities. There was also a huge rise in the value of chemical exports from the Republic to the North to the tune of 850million euros – a rise of 280million euros.

Aidan O'Kane, who was appointed President of the Derry Chamber of Commerce last year, said that these figures from the CSO showed that the North was benefiting from continued access to the European Single Market and its economy might be doing even better if the Executive at Stormont properly promoted to other trading nations the unique benefits that the Protocol brings to the North.

He said: “The figures show that we're on something that could be, if marketed properly, we could have a really, really successful economy here – something that isn't really emulated anywhere else in the world.

“To miss that opportunity would be outrageous. Can you imagine the success that we would have if it was properly marketed and backed by the Government locally? What would we be saying?

“We would be asking post-election that the new Executive should jointly commit to overcome any problems or issues caused by the Protocol and commit to advertising to the rest of the world the benefits that it brings to businesses that are based in Northern Ireland.

“As a cross-border region, the North-West stands to benefit massively if they (the Executive) could get their act together. In terms of beaming this around the world, it hasn't happened yet because it's got that constitutional element to it.

“It is not fully bought into by all parties, but imagine if it was. We would have a huge opportunity globally.”

The figures from the CSO also revealed the downside of Great Britain having a hard border with the European Union post-Brexit.

British exports to the Republic of Ireland dropped by 13 per cent to 15.4billion euros – a drop of just over 2.3billion euros from 2020. Exports from the Republic to Britain however, rose by 17 per cent to 14.4billion euros.

For O'Kane, these figures in particular highlight the potential difficulties the North – especially businesses and traders in frontier areas such as Derry – might have had if a hard land border had been placed on the island of Ireland instead of the Irish Sea.

He added: “That is a little bit of a tell-tale of what could have happened with a harder border into Northern Ireland.

“It shows that while there is some things to be ironed out on the Protocol side of things – that are more than achievable through goodwill and negotiation – those figures in particular show what could have happened had the Protocol not been in place.

“A hard land border would have been disastrous – there is no doubt about it. A hard land border inhibits trade of goods and services. For people, it would have been disastrous for the Northern Ireland economy. Particularly those border regions – the economies around those would have been hugely and adversely impacted.

“There may have been less paperwork to and from the UK to Northern Ireland. But to us, that is not a good enough outcome for a hard border that inhibits trade across a border region.

“From our perspective, it is really positive to see strong cross-border trade on the island. While Brexit and the Protocol have caused difficulties for business over the past number of years, businesses have really stayed resilient and adaptable.

“The figures from the Central Statistics Office show that new markets and new buyers have re-orientated to new supply chains and new sources of products.

“The increase of 65 per cent of imports from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland to a value of nearly four billion euros proves that businesses, when faced with challenges, always find a way to naturally follow the path of least resistance.

“Dual-market access to the UK and the rest of the EU is definitely an attractive prospect for Northern Ireland-based businesses. It's really important we make the most of that.

“The message from the Chamber and membership is also very clear. We've heard over the course of the last couple of years – and now with the recent collapse of the Executive – that the Protocol remains a problem politically. While the Protocol isn't perfect in practical terms for businesses, there are also clear-cut opportunities that should be grasped by our Executive with a strategy put in place to make the most of those opportunities.

“Unfortunately, there is with the Protocol a stigma or an association in and around the constitutional question. If we are to be very clear-cut and purely transactional in terms of what the Protocol is and the impact it's having, then the data tells us that this is a positive thing for Northern Ireland-based businesses.

“That's a general statement. That is not to say there are businesses that are feeling negative impacts – that could very well be the case and likely is the case – but the vast majority of businesses want to have a proposition that is unique for Northern Ireland.

“It enables dual-access to both the UK and the EU markets – that is always going to be a positive thing. The statistic in this (CSO) report shows that this is actually the case.”

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