Northern Ireland could be 'collateral damage' in Trump's hardened America First' stance

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Danang, Vietnam, on his five-country trip through Asia, where he reiterated his “America First” trade policy at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A LEADING tax expert believes Northern Ireland could become collateral damage in President Trump's efforts to make his country great again by pledging “American jobs for American people”.

Malachy McLernon, regional chairman of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, addressing his organisation's annual dinner, said: "Those comments signal worrying times for the 20,000 people employed here by US companies here in major companies like Caterpillar and Terex."

President Trump reiterated his “America First” trade policy again yesterday to a gathering of nations that once pinned their economic hopes on a regional pact led by the United States, when he vowed to protect American interests against what he called foreign exploitation.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum in Vietnam, he said: “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.

“What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible,” he added.

Besides the potential threat to Northern Ireland jobs from that hardened US stance, Mr McLernon also told the 150 tax professionals at the dinner that the Brexit clock is ticking and that the north needs it politicians and business leaders to pull together and secure a better future.

He said: "Brexit may well push Northern Ireland towards focusing more on non-EU trading partners and it is therefore essential that our businesses build stronger relationships with the emerging economies in order to build long term growth.

"But a fully functioning and stable Northern Ireland Assembly is absolutely vital to articulating the local case and to prepare the economy for changes and challenges that Brexit will result in," he said.

"Anything short of “fully functioning” institutions may become a political distraction from the vital task of addressing specific challenges facing Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit era."

Mr McLernon added: "And as long as we don't have clarity on Brexit, we not only creep closer to the cliff edge of no deal – we risk taking our eyes off Northern Ireland's other key priorities such as the skills and infrastructure we need to transform our economy."

On the issue of tax avoidance, highlighted this week with the leaking of the so-called Paradise Papers, he insisted: "We need a strong tax profession in the UK to present an accurate and fair understanding of the tax rules and we should not lose sight of the fact that 90 per cent of this country's tax receipts come in with little or no intervention from HMRC.

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