Changes in Northern Ireland’s laws could help the region foster a business climate that would more significantly affect the United Kingdom’s economy, according to Wilfred Mitchell, vice chairman of the Northern Ireland branch of the Federation of Small Businesses.

The federation, a non-profit lobbying group, sent a five-member delegation to Atlanta to learn about American laws as they relate to business practices.

Mr. Mitchell was speaking at a roundtable discussion between the Irish business group and several American attorneys, hosted by the Ireland Chamber USA Inc. at the Bank of America Plaza.

He said that although prospects for foreign investment are on the rise with a peace agreement in place and the Northern Ireland Assembly elected and convening, high government taxes could continue to cause foreign companies to locate elsewhere.

“People will just go south,” said Mr. Mitchell, referring to the Republic of Ireland, which he said has strengthened its economy over the last two decades by granting tax holidays of up to 10 years, during which foreign companies pay no import tax. The U.K. imposes a profit tax that is two-thirds higher than Ireland’s tax.

Legal reform could help Northern Ireland to an economic boom similar to its southern neighbor, Mr. Mitchell added.

“What’s happened in the south can be replicated in the north if we get the government support they got,” he said. “We have…the ability to compete here, we have a lot of people who have engineering skills that they don’t know they have. We still have the bureaucracy holding us down.”

Complicated laws also hurt homegrown companies in Northern Ireland, Mr. Mitchell said.

“It’s difficult for small businesses to learn all the labor laws in Northern Ireland,” hampering their ability to hire people and leaving them open to lawsuits.

Mr. Mitchell is confident that the new legislative assembly will “put these labor laws to bed,” but taxation is a different issue, as it is controlled by the British parliament.

The unemployment rate in Northern Ireland is second-lowest in the U.K. at 4.2 percent, according to a government press release. Mr. Mitchell said that tourism is on the rise as “the whole island of Ireland,” is now being marketed.

This is the second delegation from Northern Ireland to visit the Georgia capital in the past two weeks, and the fifth since 2004. The group included John Friel, regional chairman of the federation, as well as Hugh Burgess, Marlene Marcus and Michael Rentmeister, branch chairs.

The Northern Ireland branch of the federation represents 6,000 companies in the region.

Story Contacts, Links and Related Stories
Federation of Small Businesses, Northern Ireland

Ireland Chamber of Commerce USA Inc., Atlanta Chapter