“Safeguarding the Union” trade impact for Northern Ireland: Unlocking Opportunities

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce greatly welcomes the political stability that the Safeguarding the Union agreement brings to Northern Ireland, particularly in restoring the Northern Ireland Executive.

Regarding trade, as an apolitical stakeholder interested solely in maximising UK-Irish business opportunities, the Chamber believes Safeguarding the Union represents a significant step in realising Northern Ireland as “the world’s most exciting economic zone”, with access to both the UK and EU markets. It does so in three ways.

First, the Agreement gives as much trade access as is possible under the Windsor Framework, without undermining the Framework. The shift from the Green and Red lane system to the new, expanded UK Internal Market System (UKIMS), as well as legislation and structures to manage the Windsor Framework means Northern Ireland can retain its UK trading opportunities while unnecessary red tape between the UK and EU can be minimised.

Second, the Agreement gives practical supports to Northern Irish businesses to help deal with any new or existing regulatory issues and support investment. This includes the creation of two new bodies, an East-West Council and UK Intertrade, and the promise to hold one Cabinet Meeting in Northern Ireland annually. The Chamber knows more than anyone how events and opportunities that such bodies create can foster trade and investment for domestic businesses and greatly welcome these developments. The creation of Intertrade UK, which will be modelled on the immensely successful “Intertrade Ireland” is a great opportunity. Since its creation after the Belfast Agreement, Intertrade Ireland has provided over 54,000 businesses with assistance, generated €1.75bn/£1.5bn business value, impacted 22,000 jobs, supported over 1,500 first time exporters and 1,200 first time innovators.

Third, the new Agreement has come at a time when the UK is phasing in new import checks on European goods. The Chamber has cautioned that the new border checks implemented at the end of January 2024 has the potential to increase food prices for British consumers. In a similar vein, the Chamber has also recently contacted Revenue regarding managing trade coming from Northern Ireland to Britain via Dublin. In spite of these concerns, thanks to the agreement, Northern Ireland will face almost no import checks, meaning lower costs to consumers and unfettered access to the UK market, realising benefits for Northern Ireland which the Windsor Framework promised.

While all small steps, Safeguarding the Union’s elements can be seen as realising the best opportunities of the Windsor Framework, without fundamentally changing it. The Agreement builds on a growing trend of proactive UK regional engagement, for example the UK’s reassociation to the Horizon Europe programme. The Chamber hopes this trend will continue, particularly in areas where trade access is still unclear, most pressingly around the UK’s supply of veterinary medicines, where a grace period on checks will run out in December 2025. The Chamber greatly welcomes the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and hopes that the restoration of the devolved Government can give businesses in Northern Ireland the certainty they need to help realise the regions full potential.