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US investors' visit postponed amid uncertainty over Brexit

By Margaret Canning

Published 08/07/2016

Brexit talks: Martin McGuinness
Brexit talks: Martin McGuinness
Brexit talks: Mark O’Connell

A visit by American investors to Northern Ireland in the autumn will now take place in the first half of next year, the US Consulate has said.

Uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland's economy are understood to have played a role in postponing the visit, which was due to happen in October.

Around 20 visitors from the US were to attend events in Belfast and Londonderry aimed at establishing business links that could lead to in investment in the province.

The event was being organised by the office of US Secretary of State John Kerry and Gary Hart, his representative in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the US Consulate in Northern Ireland said: "We are strongly committed to bolstering two-way trade and investment with Northern Ireland.

"We anticipated that a US trade and investment delegation will visit Northern Ireland in the first half of 2017."

It's understood the plans for the event - which has been planned for around one year - were also disrupted by the departure of Irish-American Drew O'Brien from a key role in the US Department of State.

But Stormont Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the planned visit had been delayed as a direct consequence of the Brexit vote.

Speaking yesterday morning, he said the move indicated a "considerable slowing up" of investment opportunities.

"Plans were in place for an economic mission of considerable size for October of this year and that was on the basis they hoped the vote on Brexit would be a remain vote," he said.

"Now since that is not the case I have been told yesterday at a meeting that that visit has now been postponed, directly as a result of the vote. That is of considerable concern."

Mark O'Connell, the managing director of consultancy OCO in Belfast - which advises foreign direct investors - said uncertainty over the impact of Brexit was affecting the timing of investment conferences UK-wide.

Mr O'Connell said: "I have been in London this week discussing Brexit impact with UKTI, the national body for trade and investment.

"The current political vacuum and turbulence in the markets would place any conference of this sort in jeopardy until the dust settles.

"So it is not an Northern Ireland-specific issue."

And Mr O'Connell called for more focus and engagement on the impact of Brexit on cross-border trade issues, and said he had heard concerns from Irish business support organisation Enterprise Ireland.

"Talking to Enterprise Ireland they are deeply concerned due to their dependencies on UK - €8bn from total exports of circa €20bn."

One businessman with close links to the US - who was not set to take part in the event - said Brexit had affected the perception of the UK in America.

"They feel that it's the stupidest thing that could have happened.

"It's a change of direction for the UK which could mean that investors will now look to the Republic instead."

Economic development agency Invest NI is not involved in the organisation of the event.

But a spokesman said: "Invest NI understands from the US Consulate that this visit was postponed for logistical reasons and it anticipates that a US trade and investment delegation will visit Northern Ireland in the first half of 2017."

Belfast Telegraph

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