Push to win business through free trade deals

A major push to win new business with Mexico, Korea, Canada, and Japan is to be made as part of the Government’s Brexit-proofing efforts.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has commissioned an examination of the economic opportunities that may be available to Ireland through EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

It comes after hauliers warned even minor changes to the border after Brexit could have catastrophic effects on the industry.

The Freight Transport Association of Ireland (FTAI) has said that a hard border must be avoided when Britain leaves the EU.

Concerns around future customs arrangements and trade agreements have also been raised after it was claimed that the UK wants to retain all the benefits of EU membership without meeting any of their obligations.

In position papers published this week, the UK Government put forward suggestions on how trade, customs, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would work after Brexit.

While Theresa May’s government claimed that the UK will be pushing for a “seamless and frictionless” border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney continued to warn that we must prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Announcing the study, Ms Fitzgerald said it is important that Ireland now looks to take advantage of the opportunities under existing and prospective free trade agreements, and ensure our businesses are prepared to access new markets and compete internationally.

She said: “I am strongly committed to ensuring that the Government is doing everything possible to respond strongly to the impacts of Brexit and to safeguard Irish jobs in every part of the country, protect investment and expand exports.”

The study will begin in October and will look into taking advantage of agreements between the EU and Korea, Canada, and Japan as well as prospective agreements with Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien said he has “serious concerns” for Ireland if the UK proposals are accepted and said the Government must now fight hard to negotiate a deal in the interests of all Irish exporters.

“Despite confirming that they will leave the single market, the British government supposedly prioritises barrier-free trade with Ireland. Furthermore, while it will exit the customs union, the UK have seemingly made it a priority to avoid the introduction of a new border around Northern Ireland.

“It is therefore becoming increasingly apparent that the British Government is determined to retain all of the benefits of EU membership but without meeting any of their obligations.”

He added that this negotiation position would be “extremely difficult” for Europe and Ireland to agree upon.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association also highlighted the implications that a hard border would have on milk processing. Its president, John Comer, said: “Effectively the UK proposals amount to Boris Johnson’s ‘have cake and eat it’ ambition which seeks to retain trade arrangements with the EU ‘as is’ without any of what they perceive as the disadvantages of membership of either the EU or the customs union.”

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