A leading family business in the North plans to establish its first operations in the United States because of what it sees as “increasing political uncertainty” and the prospect of potential export restrictions” post-Brexit.
Smiley Monroe, which is headquartered in Lisburn, manufactures a range of endless conveyor belts and custom rubber and plastic parts for the mobile equipment sector.
The company, which was founded in 1979, exports to more than 60 countries and has a manufacturing base in India.
It now plans to invest $2 million (€1.8 million), backed by Danske Bank and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in a new manufacturing facility in Franklin in Kentucky.
Chris Monroe, the group’s global sales director, said: “With the political uncertainty both in the UK and beyond, protecting our export sales is paramount to growing the business and safeguarding jobs in Northern Ireland
“Having a base in the US will shorten lead times for customers and help us be more competitive in the tough US market. Removing barriers to trade will fast-track our ambitious growth plans to increase turnover by 50 per cent over the next three years.”
The move comes as a senior business leader in the North warns, in light of British prime minister Boris Johnson’s Border proposals, that companies there do not want “friction on two fronts”.
Angela McGowan, director of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland, said while the new proposals represent a “step forward”, businesses in the North see them simply as a basis for further discussion and “not the final destination”.
“While the creation of a regulatory zone is welcome, for reasons we all understand frictionless trade on the island of Ireland must mean just that, with no possibility of a hard border.
“No deal will damage Northern Ireland businesses, communities and the economy, so urgent answers are needed on everything from the all-island electricity market to measures needed to combat smuggling,” said Ms McGowan.
Farmers’ leaders in the North have also warned that the latest proposals from the British government do not address all of their concerns, particularly around tariffs and customs.
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ivor Ferguson said the proposals were a “ useful starting point for further negotiations”.
The union maintains that any deal must allow free and frictionless trade to continue North-South and east-west and that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous for Northern Ireland’s family-run farming businesses”.
Mr Ferguson added: “From 2021, WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules and tariffs will apply for all exports from NI unless the UK has a free trade agreement in place. This does not give the certainty around tariff-free access that we require. It is essential for the livelihood of family-run farming businesses that this is confirmed.”