Northern Ireland

First and deputy first ministers visit US to promote NI corporation tax rate

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Media captionNorthern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers are visiting the United States where they are promoting a reduced rate of corporation tax.

The first and deputy first ministers are visiting the United States where they are promoting a reduced rate of corporation tax.

The tax cut was agreed as part of the Fresh Start deal and is due to take effect in 2018.

It means companies in Northern Ireland will have profits taxed at 12.5% compared to 19% in the rest of the UK.

The NI Executive hopes to use that as its major tool for attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

The US is the largest investor in Northern Ireland with 175 companies employing more than 24,000 people.

Image caption The visit opened with a business breakfast in New York hosted by KPMG

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness are pitching the new tax powers to potential investors in New York, Washington and Silicon Valley.

They began their visit on Monday with a business breakfast hosted by KPMG in New York.

On Sunday, Mrs Foster said she hoped US firms would invest in Northern Ireland, despite calls from both frontrunners in the US presidential race to put America first for jobs.

Inversion

However, the events are expected to be low-key as the issue of corporate taxes has become an election issue in the US.

There has been widespread criticism of firms like Tyco and Pfizer, which have used "inversion" deals to relocate their headquarters to the Republic of Ireland for tax purposes.

Those sorts of deals are highly unlikely in Northern Ireland, but the ministers are aware of the sensitivities around tax.

They are expected to describe the reduced tax as just one element of what is on offer in Northern Ireland as an investment location.

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness may also face questions about the UK's referendum on EU membership.

Mr McGuinness's party, Sinn Féin, supports EU membership and he said it would be "foolish" not to recognise that a potential "Brexit" will probably be an issue for potential investors.

Image caption Theresa Villiers is travelling to Washington for the St Patrick's Day events

Mrs Foster's party, the DUP, is in favour of leaving the EU, but she said her differences with Mr McGuinness would not make the trip difficult.

She later said US President Barack Obama was "entitled to his opinion" on whether the UK should remain in the EU but that it was ultimately "a matter for the people of the UK".

She was speaking following reports that the US president will use an upcoming visit to the UK to argue for continued EU membership.

Mrs Foster said it was open to question whether an intervention by Mr Obama would have a huge impact.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is also travelling to Washington to represent the UK at St Patrick's Day events.

She will also be promoting Northern Ireland as a "great place for investment".

"I am also delighted that it was this government that passed legislation to enable the devolution of corporation tax which could have such a transformative effect on the Northern Ireland economy," she said.

"The Fresh Start and Stormont House agreements have placed devolved government on a more stable and sustainable footing.

"There are some issues still to be resolved but I am confident that we can find an agreed way forward to address the legacy of Northern Ireland's past and build a brighter, more secure future for everyone ."

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