Companies quiz minister for international trade on future proposals with major markets
Companies in Northern Ireland have told a UK minister that they need to know the future trade arrangements with major markets including the EU and the US in the event of a no-deal.
Trade Policy Minister Conor Burns, a minister of state in the Department for International Trade, visited businesses in the province yesterday, including generator company AJ Power in Craigavon and defence manufacturer Thales.
The minister also met the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The department said it is prioritising preparations for leaving the EU on October 31 - "whatever the circumstances".
And it is also pursuing free trade agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as seeking accession to the Pacific trade bloc.
It said that new free trade agreements "could help to open up new markets and increase demand for Northern Ireland products overseas".
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John Bolton, national security advisor to US President Donald Trump, has said the US will be able to conclude partial sector by sector trade deals with the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
But others have said it will be hard to get partial deals through Congress.
Chris Morrow, the head of policy at the NI Chamber of Commerce, said: "We are seeing an increase in the number of businesses who are preparing for various scenarios - but in too many instances they are preparing for the unknown.
"While there is absolutely no appetite for a no-deal Brexit, companies need to know now what future trade arrangements with significant markets including the EU and United States will look like in the event of no-deal.
"The provision of additional support with preparation and scenario planning is therefore vital and urgent answers are needed around the areas of trade, people and borders."
But Mr Burns - who spent his early years in Northern Ireland - said Brexit would give businesses in Northern Ireland "an opportunity to build stronger and deeper trading ties with some of the world's largest and fastest growing economies". "Our new free trade agreements will bring benefits to people right across the UK, so I'm happy to be back home in Northern Ireland today," he commented.
"Successful exporting businesses like AJ Power are helping to drive our trade around the world and support jobs.
"Northern Ireland plays a vital role in securing the United Kingdom's shared prosperity.
"I look forward to working with businesses across Northern Ireland."