A U.S. business delegation, dispatched to Northern Ireland by President Joe Biden, has embarked on a mission to uncover the economic potential brought about by the region's unique post-Brexit trade arrangements. These arrangements, established under the Windsor Framework Agreement, grant Northern Ireland dual access to both the United Kingdom and the European Union goods markets. While the trade opportunities are evident, the delegation also acknowledges the political challenges that have arisen.
The trade mission, originally announced by President Biden during his visit to Belfast in April, aims to promote what he termed as an "unprecedented economic opportunity" stemming from Northern Ireland's distinctive trade position. However, despite these prospects, the largest pro-British party in the region, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has not yet lifted its boycott of the regional power-sharing government. This boycott is a result of remaining trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Joe Kennedy III, who is leading the delegation of approximately 50 U.S. executives, expressed optimism about the trip's impact on attendees. "I think people have been excited about this. They've had their eyes opened by this trip," he told reporters. He stressed the importance of a stable government for attracting investments worth hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, emphasizing the need to re-establish the power-sharing system established by the 1998 peace agreement.
Among the delegation were notable figures such as Coca-Cola CFO John Murphy, Liberty Mutual Insurance CEO Tim Sweeney, and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. However, the most significant announcement during the trip came from the New York State pension fund, committing to invest up to $50 million in Northern Ireland businesses.
Mark Anderson, CEO of Alteryx Inc, a data analytics software company, expressed interest in expanding his company's presence in the region. He noted that Brexit had introduced some complexities but indicated that political difficulties were not a significant deterrent.
The Windsor Agreement, implemented in February, offers Northern Ireland improved access to the UK while keeping it within the EU's single market for goods. This framework is expected to generate opportunities, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Stephen Kelly, representing trade body Manufacturing NI, revealed that some manufacturing-focused firms in the delegation were intrigued by the unique market access Northern Ireland offers.
While approximately 230 U.S. businesses operate in the region, Ireland's southern counterpart has been more appealing to U.S. firms due to its rapidly growing economy, pro-business policies, and a corporate tax rate of 12.5%, half that of the UK.
Addressing the situation, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin emphasized that Northern Ireland's full potential could only be realized with stable local governance. "The message from business to Northern Ireland leaders is clear: Deliver stability, and we will deliver investment," said Martin.
As the delegation continues its exploration of Northern Ireland's trade landscape, the region grapples with the intertwined challenges and opportunities presented by its unique post-Brexit trade position.