By David Young, PA
Stormont’s Agriculture Minister has raised his concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol with a representative of the US administration.
Edwin Poots held talks with acting US consul general in Belfast Bryan Wockley to discuss the post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.
Mr Poots is a vocal critic of the protocol, claiming new checks and processes are negatively affecting the region’s agri-food sector.
The DUP minister said he wanted to ensure the US administration was “fully apprised of the challenges faced by agri-food businesses and the public” resulting from the Protocol.
The move comes amid unionist concerns that Washington’s view of the protocol is overly influenced by advocates of the arrangements in the EU and Irish government.
“I highlighted the concerns I am hearing from businesses about the impact the protocol is having and stressed that NI’s agri-food sector continues to be disproportionately affected,” Mr Poots said after the meeting.
“We need permanent solutions to the issues and I will continue to push the UK Government and EU to make sure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and people are not disadvantaged.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by the EU and UK during the Brexit withdrawal negotiations in an effort to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
It achieves that by moving many regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea, with goods arriving into the region from GB subjected to significant new red tape.
The arrangements have caused some disruption to trade since the start of the year as firms have struggled with the extra bureaucracy.
(Graffiti condemning the protocol in Belfast. Pic: PA)
Unionists and loyalists are vehemently opposed to the arrangements, claiming they undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
The meeting came in the week it emerged that Mr Poots’ party colleague Ian Paisley is spearheading a new legal challenge against the Protocol.
The action against the Government claims the arrangements infringe the economic rights of Northern Ireland citizens.
If successful, the commercial litigation could pave the way for companies adversely affected by the terms of the protocol to claim significant financial damages from the Government.
The legal move is different to separate legal challenges that have been mounted against the protocol on constitutional grounds.
The action, which names the Cabinet Office and Attorney General as defendants, seeks a declaration from the High Court in London that the provisions in EU Withdrawal Act relating to the protocol conflict with the economic rights provided for in the UK Human Rights Act.
The 1998 Human Rights Act enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic legislation.
The claim form lodged with the High Court this week names Ballymena haulage company Blair International and DUP North Antrim MP Mr Paisley as the initial claimants.
During the meeting with the acting consul general, Mr Poots said he also indicated his desire for a UK/US trade deal.
“The US market for agri-products is very important to us – we have been sending our high quality dairy and pork products to the US for many years and I welcome the decision last year by the US authorities to grant market access to two NI beef processors,” he said.
“I am keen to see a continuation of the UK-US trade talks which will bring much needed confidence at a time of great uncertainty for the NI agri-food industry.”