What are the implications of a Biden presidency on a potential UK-US trade deal and Northern Ireland?

The incoming Joe Biden presidency may yet present challenges a potential UK-US trade deal
The incoming Joe Biden presidency may yet present challenges a potential UK-US trade deal

THERE'S little over a month to go before the end of the Brexit transition phase. With the UK firmly ‘out’ of the European Union at that stage, the stakes are high.

Boris Johnson has previously spoken with confidence that a trade deal with the United States will be signed. However, the incoming Joe Biden administration may yet present challenges to that goal.

Since the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum, Northern Ireland has been thrust into the limelight. The recent initial murmurs out of Washington from high-profile figures including Congressman Brendan Boyle suggest that this will continue, with President-elect Biden primarily focused on protecting the Good Friday Agreement as opposed to securing a free-trade deal with the UK government.

While the political and business community may welcome a departure from the politics of President Trump, a Biden administration raises a series of unknowns not least how Northern Ireland will fit into the picture in the future.

Much has been spoken of in the past about the ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK, but it is possible that for the next four years at least, this special relationship could be with Dublin and not London.

It has previously been suggested that a free trade deal with the US would be worth £221 billion to the UK economy. However, without an actual deal to off-set the benefits associated with membership of the European Union and agreed protections for Northern Ireland, the potential cost to Northern Irish businesses could be severe.

In recent weeks, the growing concerns of the business and indeed political community in Northern Ireland has been outlined in a letter from the First and Deputy First Ministers conveying fears that shoppers could be faced with a shortage of certain goods unless there is clarity about their trading status when the Brexit transition period ends.

This is the stark reality of the dilemma which awaits everyone in Northern Ireland when the transition period ends. The new era post the transition period is looming fast, and as things stand higher costs and supply chain issues will soon be a reality.

It is therefore crucial that outstanding issues are ironed out as quickly as possible to give much needed certainty. It is clear that the current game of tennis being played out between the House of Lords and House of Commons in respect of the Internal Market Bill and the potential impact this could have on Northern Ireland will be watched closely by the incoming US administration.

While the challenges are obvious, the new administration in the US could present significant opportunities for Northern Ireland. Over several decades, President-Elect Biden has been a key supporter of the prosperity, stability and opportunity offered by the Good Friday Agreement to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

With Irish interests as a whole, once again firmly on the radar of the US administration, and the advancement of the Taoiseach’s ‘Shared Island Unit’, the business community and wider society in Northern Ireland rightly have reason to be optimistic about the immediate future, at least.

:: Matthew Howse is partner (dispute resolution and litigation) at Eversheds Sutherland Belfast