North South cooperation and cross-border trade has grown significantly in the years since the Good Friday Agreement, strengthening a growing prosperity which both supports and is supported by the peace process. Underpinned by the current shared EU regulatory framework, cross-border trade at present represents the first export market for 73% of Northern Ireland’s small and medium-sized companies. More than 7,000 businesses trade from Northern Ireland across the island of Ireland, supporting over 165,000 jobs.Recent research has also shown a high degree of integration of the economies North and South, including in supply chains and trade in intermediary products. Northern Ireland accounts for between ten and twelve percent of total exports from Ireland to the UK and seven to eight percent of imports. Given that the population of Northern Ireland is less than three percent of the UK total, this shows the closeness of the economic ties between both parts of the island.
This underlines the importance of securing an outcome in the Brexit negotiations that maintains an invisible border on the island of Ireland. This objective goes beyond trade and is to protect the Good Friday agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process. Peace and prosperity are mutually reinforcing and cross-border trade is an important element in supporting jobs and building prosperity.
I regularly meet the Foreign Secretary, including at meetings of Foreign Ministers in an EU context, and internationally, as well as other UK Ministers who are heavily engaged in the Brexit negotiation process. Ireland’s views on the importance of a workable resolution to the issues relating to the border on the island of Ireland are known to the UK Government and are discussed on a regular basis when Irish and UK Ministers meet. Ireland and the United Kingdom share many areas of mutual interest and concern and we will continue to work on areas of commonality with the aim of reaching an outcomes that reflects Ireland’s well-stated objective of achieving as close as possible a relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit.