Business group calls for 'urgent solutions' to challenges on trade from GB

New checks have been introduced at the region's ports under post-Brexit trade agreements. Credit: PA Images

Solutions must urgently be found to challenges on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a prominent business group has said.

New checks have been introduced at the region's ports under post-Brexit trade agreements.

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the region must apply EU rules at ports despite remaining part of the UK to avoid a hard border on the island.

The protocol is opposed by unionists, who regard it as an Irish Sea border.

Almost 90 days into the new arrangements, Angela McGowan of the CBI NI said getting to grips with the new rules has "not all been plain sailing".

Giving evidence to the Stormont Executive Committee, Ms McGowan said the protocol was "much better than a disorderly withdrawal from the EU".

"But we do need to urgently find solutions to the well documented challenges and barriers to trade from Britain," she said.

Ms McGowan said CBI members report that trade is "moving reasonably well", and they are "increasingly getting to grips with the new administrative requirements".

"The protocol is not perfect but it's a dynamic framework that the business community wants to bed down and to secure so we can have peace and prosperity on the island," she told MLAs.

Republic of Ireland imports from NI were up 10%, and exports to NI were up 17% in January, she noted, but added that Great Britain is the region's largest market, and "therefore getting that unfettered access to the market has been hugely important to us".

Executive Committee chairman Colin McGrath responded, saying it is "incumbent upon governments in London, Dublin and the Executive here in Belfast to do what it can to try and help with those solutions, and try to find those solutions".

Meanwhile Fergal O'Brien, of IBEC, a lobbying group for businesses in the Republic of Ireland, said the level of disruption now is "nowhere near as severe" as in January.

He said while many initial teething problems have been overcome, many IBEC members say the movement of goods on and off the island has become much more complex and costly.

Michael Darcy, of the IBEC/CBI NI Joint Business Council, said Brexit has had a universal impact across business, which the coronavirus pandemic added to in 2020.

But he said greater opportunities are also presented.

"However, the experience of all island business is that tackling these challenges will benefit from the shared prioritisation, development and delivery of a more ambitious long-term strategic shared island investment programme," he said.