NI protocol the main barrier to trade deal, says US official

The impasse over the status of the Northern Ireland protocol is one of the main obstacles to a US-UK trade deal, Washington’s trade representative Katherine Tai said on Monday 26 April. [Shutterstock/ Kevin J. Frost]

The impasse over the status of the Northern Ireland protocol is one of the main obstacles to a US-UK trade deal, Washington’s trade representative Katherine Tai said on Monday, 26 April.

Tai commented following the start of two days of trade talks in Aberdeen with UK International Trade minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan. The second day of talks will be in London on Tuesday.

“Let me affirm that it’s a big issue. We are watching, but it’s actually a big issue for the UK and for Europe as well,” Tai told the BBC.

“There’s a lot of interest in the US, from the president and from leading members of Congress, and also from our very, very large Irish-American population,” the US’s top trade negotiator added.

The protocol, which effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods and introduces customs checks on goods transported from Britain to Ireland, has been a point of contention throughout the Brexit process.

Talks between EU and UK officials to make the implementation of the protocol less onerous on businesses have been making slow progress since last autumn but are on hold ahead of the Northern Ireland assembly elections in May.

Last week, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees Mogg hinted the UK could introduce legislation to unilaterally revoke the protocol, a move which could collapse the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We’re watching closely and feel very, very strongly about the legacy of peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland, and we care very much about the fate of all the people here,” added Tai.

Joe Biden’s presidency has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining the Good Friday Agreement and that post-Brexit trade disputes must not undermine it. The Biden administration has also played down the significance of a UK-US trade deal, one of the priority trade pacts for Johnson’s government, covering 16.8% of UK trade.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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