North's business circles concerns over May's Brexit plans
THE north's business circles were left spinning in all directions following Theresa May's Brexit speech, some elements of which they found 'alarming'.
The prime minister stated that while the UK would be leaving the single market, she reassured businesses that she will seek to negotiate a ‘comprehensive free trade agreement' with the ‘greatest possible access' to the single market.
Northern Ireland exports to the Republic current account for almost 37 per cent of its total exports to EU,and it remains to be seen if exporters will be able to absorb any extra tariffs?
Jamesina Doble, director of investment management with Belfast-based Johnston Campbell, said that "between the lines we might have something that isn't EU membership but looks and operates very like it.”
However, she added that questions still remained over the north's border with the south.
Mary Meehan, chief executive of border community Newry's chamber of commerce, criticised trading single market access for border control.
"What that might look like and how that will translate in practice on the ground in our unique location on the border with the Republic of Ireland remains a mystery and a huge concern," she said.
Neighbours in the Londonderry chamber echoed Ms Meehan's statement.
"There is a lack of clarity with regard to customs tariffs. If cross-border transactions become subject to tariffs, this will be a major disruption to local trade. This provides a major concern to us," its chief executive Sinead McLaughlin said.
CBI NI regional director Angela McGowan warned that ruling out membership of the single market has reduced options for maintaining barrier-free and tariff-free trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
"Given the importance of the EU to NI exports, the significance of leaving the Single Market is an important issue for the local economy," she said.
"While local businesses want to make a success of Brexit, there are undoubtedly concerns about falling back on damaging WTO rules."
Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) focused his comments on the future for EU workers in the north.
"What should happen is that Governments in Dublin, Belfast and London must ensure that Brexit does not result in the hardening of the border and that no barriers whatsoever are placed on trade or workers from across the EU," he said.
Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ann McGregor, warned that “Negotiating agreements can take years and it would therefore be good to hear what is planned in the interim to allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between the UK and EU.”