Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

UK and Irish governments to sign up to economic plan

The British and Irish governments are poised to unveil an economic master plan designed to deepen integration between the two countries.

A study, commissioned by both governments, outlines a range of proposals in which Dublin and London would collaborate, including joint Irish and UK trade missions, boosting electrical interconnection and a common tourist visa for both countries.

The plan is expected to be jointly launched in a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

It follows agreement from both leaders in March last year to set out a vision of closer bilateral cooperation between Britain and Ireland over the next decade.

"We see it very much in our national economic interest to pursue these activities with Ireland," a senior British government official said.

"Of course, we hope that it will have a political benefit as well by consolidating the much better relations we have these days."

However, the document may very well raise questions in Ireland about the extent to which the Republic is prepared to further integrate itself with its nearest neighbour, particularly in terms of trade.

The senior British official said there was an appetite in London for closer cooperation on trade missions, but accepted there was some wariness around diluting the identity of each state.

Key recommended areas of collaboration include:

* Joint UK/Irish trade missions that could end up with British ministers promoting the benefits of Ireland overseas and vice versa. Focus would also be placed on developing joint trade and promotional proposals in the agri-food sector;

* Increased electrical interconnection capacity, boosting the number of companies active in the market thereby boosting competition and lowering prices;

* Work is already ongoing between the two governments on developing a common travel area visa, allowing for a single visa for travel to both countries. This would build on the short-stay visa waiver programme already in place;

* Closer cooperation in banking and financial services, allowing for the two countries to take a coordinated approach on international negotiations; and

* Spreading the cost of investing in research and development facilities and expertise between both countries, with ICT and bio-technology getting the greatest benefit.

The study was compiled by PA Consulting group and Cambridge Econometrics and draws on contributions from policy makers, industry experts and businesses.

Britain is Ireland's biggest trading partner, with the UK Ireland's largest export destination. Ties between the two countries are at an all-time high, with the Prime Minister and Taoiseach meeting each year and senior officials in government departments from both jurisdictions holding talks each autumn.

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