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Brexit: Business chiefs urge politicians to start 'real work' of building strong trade links

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Progress: Angela McGowan

Progress: Angela McGowan

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Progress: Angela McGowan

Northern Ireland must now build a new relationship with Europe and pursue major global trade ambitions, business figures have claimed.

As the UK enters an 11-month transition period following its exit from the EU, CBI NI director Angela McGowan said the region's future prosperity remained connected to the bloc.

And she said advances had been made, despite the tumult since the 2016 referendum result.

"Despite the challenges of the last three years, together we have made progress. No deal has been avoided and a year of status quo gives time to shape a new relationship," she said.

"Now the real work begins. With Stormont restored, local politicians now have the opportunity to build strong trade links, attract investment and provide an economic environment that is conducive to creating jobs and raising local living standards."

She said the time had come for a "new relationship with Europe".

"This can reflect our shared values and mutual interest and support bold global trade ambitions."

Economist John Simpson said the withdrawal agreement, which grants Northern Ireland a special status to trade with the Republic and the EU while remaining part of the UK customs union, had simply "set the scene" for what is to come.

"A wide range of policies must now be reviewed and the specific context for Northern Ireland will include many variations affecting Northern Ireland in ways which differ from detailed decisions for GB," he said.

"During the next few months the agenda must cope with decisions on regulatory alignment of standards for goods and services and the impact of potential customs tariff differences between UK and EU."

And while nothing will change in the short-term, "life with Brexit will become a lot more complicated in 2021".

Paul MacFlynn, a senior economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute (Neri), said the next phase of Brexit negotiations could bring "consensus" to the relationship between political parties here.

"The withdrawal agreement sets out what Northern Ireland's economic relationship and its land border with the EU will look like after the transition period," he said.

"That was the area which saw the most political disagreement among Northern Ireland's political parties. That deal is done," the economist added.

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