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Threats to trigger Article 16 may have ruined deal to end US tariffs


Maros Sefcovic says the UK has ‘no time to lose’. Credit: Jonathan McCambridge

Maros Sefcovic says the UK has ‘no time to lose’. Credit: Jonathan McCambridge

Maros Sefcovic says the UK has ‘no time to lose’. Credit: Jonathan McCambridge

US unease over the UK’s threats to trigger Article 16 appear to have scuppered a deal to remove steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by Donald Trump.

The Financial Times reported that it had seen a communication in which a US commerce department official stated that talks with the UK on easing metals tariffs could not go ahead.

The Biden administration has made it clear on multiple occasions that any moves to diminish the Good Friday Agreement in its eyes would have implications for a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.

According to the FT, the official cited US concerns at UK threats to trigger Article 16.

The two nations had agreed to suspend the tariffs – 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium – worth billions of dollars in October.

Both the National Security Council at the White House and UK Department of Trade downplayed any link between the tariffs and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Meanwhile, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has urged the UK to "reciprocate" in talks over the Protocol.

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Intensive talks are continuing between the UK and the EU over the post-Brexit arrangements which have sparked outrage among unionists here.

They say additional checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain are impacting trade as well as undermining Northern Ireland's relationship with the rest of the UK.

Mr Sefcovic insisted the benefits of the protocol are "immense", offering Northern Ireland access to EU and UK markets. He was speaking as he appeared remotely before Stormont’s Executive Committee yesterday.

Mr Sefcovic said he wanted to "reaffirm the EU's overarching objective to establish a positive and stable relationship with the United Kingdom".

"We have been showing flexibility and creativity in finding solutions within the framework of the protocol," he added.

Mr Sefcovic said the protocol is "not perfect but it is the best response to the UK's decision to withdraw from EU and the form of Brexit the Government has chosen".

He said the EU has put forward a package of solutions addressing the main issues: supply of medicines, checks on goods, and simplification of east-west trade in terms of customs.

"Our proposal will deliver significant changes, they amount to a new model for the implementation of the protocol and can deliver a real difference for all people and businesses in Northern Ireland," he said.

"We made an important move towards the UK with far-reaching proposals for solutions. We need the UK Government to reciprocate this now, we have no time to lose, and what is most pressing is the need to ensure continued supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. We have put the solutions on the table, we have been listening carefully to the pharmaceutical industry.

Elsewhere, it has been revealed that ports in Northern Ireland have seen a Brexit dividend, with freight volumes hitting “unprecedented highs in 2021”.

According to the Irish Maritime Development Office, there has been a 15% uplift in traffic in Belfast, 18% in Larne and 20% at Warrenpoint, which have benefited as demand for ferry services to Wales and Liverpool has declined. 

Hauliers who had favoured the Dublin to Holyhead route in the past appear to be shifting to the ports in NI “to avoid the new customs requirements involved between Ireland and UK ports”.

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