Rabbitte warns of harsh effects on exports if Britain pulls out of EU

Even the smallest dent in Ireland’s export levels to Britain would outweigh the gains made in exports to the key Bric emerging nations, the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce annual conference heard yesterday.

Addressing delegates on the second day of the inaugural conference; Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte noted that Britain remains “the market of first resort” for new Irish exporters trying to gain a foothold before expanding further afield.

Outlining the importance of Britain as a trading partner, Mr Rabbitte said: “A tiny loss of exports to Britain — between 0.5% and 1% — would immediately wipe out the hard-won increase in exports to the famous Brics. We need, therefore, to remain competitive in that market.”

Mr Rabbitte also touched on the issue of Britain’s potential exit from the EU, saying it would present Ireland with “an appalling vista” of a return to tariffs and trade barriers with our nearest neighbour.

“There are many challenges to developing the economic relationship and to Irish trade with Britain. But, none of these challenges would be as great as if there was to be a material change in the nature of Britain’s trading relationship with the EU as a whole. It would be an appalling vista to imagine a return to tariffs, or other trade barriers, between us,” he stated.

Regarding Thursday’s energy agreement, which will enable Ireland to be a chief exporter of renewable energy to Britain, Mr Rabbitte said that he prefers a “plan-led approach”, making optimal use of any additional infrastructure installed, “rather than a simple direct connection approach that sees windfarms on Irish soil simply as offshore generating capacity for the UK grid”.

He hinted at a competitive tendering process to decide on the projects that will benefit from the deal. Earlier this week, the likes of Bord na Móna, Mainstream Renewable Power, Oriel Windfarm Ltd, and Element Power outlined their prospective plans regarding the new opportunity.

Speaking yesterday, Joe McHugh — the co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly — said the deal is “extremely positive” and offers the potential of “significant employment opportunities here”.

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