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Donald Trump election win could impact on US firms spending in Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's economy could be harmed if economically-protectionist Republican candidate Donald Trump triumphs in the polls today, it's been claimed.

Up to 200 US firms have operations in Northern Ireland, from Asda supermarket owner Walmart to Game of Thrones producer HBO, as well as New York-based private equity fund Cerberus - which is the province's biggest landlord after it bought the Northern Ireland assets of the Republic's bad bank Nama.

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Cerberus' chief executive Steve Feinberg has been one of Donald Trump's economic advisors.

And US firms own a large number of homegrown manufacturers, including Caterpillar, parent company of the former FG Wilson, Terex, which owns Powerscreen, and Astec, which bought Telestack.

Trump has threatened to repatriate jobs moved overseas by US companies - and economist John Simpson said such protectionism could have a chill on the willingness of US firms to spend money abroad, including Northern Ireland.

Trump has spoken about Caterpillar, and said last year it was unable to compete against its Japanese rival Komatsu because its government had taken action to weaken the yen. But he also enthusiastically sung its praises, telling one rally in West Virginia in May: "I love construction, I love the whole thing. I can tell you more about Caterpillar tractors than the people that work there."

But Mark O'Connell of inward investor advisers OCO Global - who said he ran into Trump while golfing on his course in Bedminster, New Jersey - said Northern Ireland could ultimately benefit from a Trump administration.

"I would say that in the era of Brexit, Trump will work hard on preserving the 'special relationship' between the UK and America, and we in Northern Ireland will only benefit from that.

"And Donald Trump is a businessman, with business interests in Co Clare, and in Scotland, where he has golf courses."

Trump has owned a golf course and hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare since 2014, and has two courses in Scotland, including the Turnberry resort in Ayrshire. His mother Mary Anne came from the Outer Hebrides.

Mr O'Connell said having business interests in the UK and Ireland could involve him showing a close interest in matters here. He did not feel Trump's threats to repatriate jobs to the US would have any impact on Northern Ireland.

"His threats are focused on the industries which have, for example, closed plants in Pittsburgh and opened them in China. Those are the blue collar jobs he has in his sights as he knows those are the people likely to vote for him - rather than lawyers in the big law firms which have created back-office jobs in Northern Ireland."

He said Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to adopt a more political approach and focus on underpinning the peace process in Northern Ireland.

John-George Willis, head of the corporate department at law firm Tughans, said Trump's rise reflected the growth of populist politics. "That is what we have seen with Brexit as well - and on a macro-economic level, the protectionism which he has championed is not good for the world economy. And even if Hillary Clinton wins, she's unlikely to be able to ignore that populist thinking and may have to appear to be protectionist in her policies, too."

Invest NI, which has held a number of trade missions into the US, said it would not comment on what a Clinton or Trump victory could mean for US inward investment in the economy here.

A large number of Northern Ireland firms such as pharmaceutical firm Almac and equipment manufacturer CDE Global also have operations in the US.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir has met a number of top US political and business people during trips to San Francisco and New York.

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