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Spotlight on a policy manager: when Leheny met Biden

Seamus Leheny, Policy Manager – Northern Ireland

I have the honour of sharing an insight into my role as Policy Manager for Northern Ireland this month and it has been a busy and important time for us. Since Brexit, NI has been at the forefront of policy developments, in particular with the NI Protocol. Logistics UK has been an active and respected stakeholder and is viewed as the voice of the industry for its work in this area. There is huge global interest in logistics and the British Embassy invited me to the US to meet American logistics trade counterparts, as well as President Joe Biden, to share insights on the sector and highlight the importance of the NI Protocol.


As Logistics UK’s Policy Manager for Northern Ireland, I have met with lots of stakeholders across the UK and Europe to provide our members’ voice on the NI Protocol and its importance to global trade. I’m delighted that our continuous work has been recognised and valued by the UK Government, as well as the US Government, which has a keen interest in this area and is pushing for a resolution. Logistics UK’s reputation as the voice of UK logistics continues to grow.


I visited Washington to underline the key policy asks of our members. The US Consulate and NI Executive Office in Washington DC facilitated meetings with a number of key bodies to discuss the challenges we face in the logistics sector. I met with the American Trucking Association (ATA), a national trade organisation representing more than 70,000 members. We discovered that we face many of the same issues – a skills shortage, urban access, the transition to alternative fuels, and fuel and shipping costs. They also have a lack of suitable driver and overnight parking facilities.


I made the case for the NI Protocol at a British Embassy event hosted by the UK Ambassador to the US and NI Secretary of State. They were keen to hear our potential solutions to make it work and saw the economic benefits of having robust legislation in place. I also put forward our views on transatlantic logistics supply chains and a US-UK trade deal at an Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) dinner, attended by a variety of trade associations from different sectors, including food, drink and manufacturing.


While I was in the US, the agreement between the US and the UK to suspend tariffs for US bourbon into the UK was announced and hopefully the future will see the cost to trade, and consumers, reduce as further agreements are reached on tariffs. However, this could be a slow process as the NI Protocol has been a sticking point for reaching a US-UK trade deal. It is vital this is resolved as it will be of significant benefit to our import and export logistics businesses – whatever industrial sector they are in.


Of course, my personal highlight of the trip, and perhaps my career, was my visit to the White House. In a COVID-19 world no one could take for granted that they would be allowed to attend the event, so I was relieved to have a negative PCR result on the day. It was truly inspiring to be standing outside the Oval Office and walking down the corridors that you see in films and know countless presidents, politicians and global leaders have walked down before.


I had the chance to briefly meet the President himself and to discuss Logistics UK, thank his administration for their support and reassert the importance of resolving the NI Protocol challenges to build a strong economy and support peace. I may have been the 200th person he had met that day, but he took the time to listen and agreed with my points and I feel hopeful that we can move forward with the Protocol and trade deal talks.


In summary, the access and engagement we had was incredible and with the support of the UK, Irish and US governments, we had the opportunity to have the voice of our members heard. It demonstrates how highly regarded Logistics UK is and with new connections, we can cement our role as a leading business group that is highly effective for our members.


Benefits to Logistics UK members do not stop at the visit. As well as seeking to improve arrangements for the NI Protocol, a US business delegation is coming to Ireland to meet organisations which sets the groundwork for a trade deal. A huge positive for our industry. We can now share best practice and key learnings with ATA and the UK Embassy colleagues to address our shared challenges.


Looking forward, we need the EU and UK to agree to mitigations to make the NI Protocol work – as we pushed in the US, we need stability, certainty and clarity. If we can make it work better with unfettered access, NI has the chance to become a very prosperous place to do business, which is a positive for our members.


Published On: 21/04/2022 16:00:34


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