Category Archives: The Network

Windsor Framework: A Brighter Future for Northern Ireland?

Rishi Sunak has claimed that the Windsor Framework will make Northern Ireland the “world’s most exciting economic zone”, resulting in access to both the UK and the EU single market. The deal essentially attempts to return to the trading terms Northern Ireland had in place before the UK voted to leave the Single Market. At that time, tariffs and customs checks in the Irish Sea and along the border were not a factor. Since Brexit however, Northern Ireland has continued in an awkward middle-ground. In an attempt to prevent a hard border, Northern Ireland has essentially remained in the EU single market, resulting in checks on imports from the UK.  

The Framework

The Windsor Framework will bring into force Red and Green channels. The Red Lane will constitute goods from the UK destined for the Republic of Ireland or the EU Single Market travelling through Northern Ireland. These will face increased customs checks and standards in order to protect the Single Market. Green Lane goods are those from the UK which are to stay in Northern Ireland. 

To enter the Green Lane companies will need to register as ‘Trusted Traders’, with the British government promising support for smaller businesses. There is hope that improving technological advancements will enable the EU and the UK to monitor goods more seamlessly, with IT systems and databases shared. It is hoped this should reduce checks to 5% of the current levels by 2025. For retail, now only a single general certificate will be required for mixed loads, cutting down on bureaucracy and administration for retail operators and hauliers. 

Medicines will now be “automatically” and permanently available at the same time in Northern Ireland as they were in the rest of the UK. Previously, the EU needed to make exemptions for the supply of medicines. Areas surrounding state aid have also been clarified, as the EU feared UK state aid might be used to undercut EU firms. 

The UK government will now be able to set VAT rates below the EU minimum rates for immoveable goods that are not at risk of entering the Single Market. This will include items such as heat pumps and some other goods for retrofitting houses, such as solar panels. 

Political Certainty

As with everything Brexit-related, the political unease is likely to outshine economic concerns. Along with the usual joint bodies and governance councils between the UK and EU, an emergency mechanism known as the “Stormont brake” will come into force. This mechanism can be triggered at the request of 30 MLAs in the Stormont Assembly from at least two parties. It will allow the UK government, as an act of last resort and in extreme circumstances, to amend or replace aspects of EU provisions if they feel it will have a “significant and lasting impact specific to the everyday lives of communities” in the North. 

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Windsor Framework on the 22nd of March. Five hundred and fifteen MPs voted in favour of the agreement, with only twenty-nine descents, consisting mostly of the DUP and a few rebel Conservatives, including notable Tories such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel and Liz Truss. 

Those voting against the deal were concerned that Northern Ireland remains divided from Britain economically, and that EU courts will still have some, if diminished, jurisdiction. However, even among supporters of the deal, there was anger about the preferential treatment Northern Ireland is to receive in contrast to other regions of Britain, and the overall economic illogicality of Brexit. 

Labour MP and chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, Stella Creasy, criticised Sunak for championing the new arrangement for Northern Ireland, while “denying those same benefits to  businesses struggling in the rest of the UK.” The Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, accused the Conservatives of “patting themselves on the back for reversing some of the damage done by their disastrous deal.”

Will it make Northern Ireland the ‘Most Exciting’ Economic Zone in the World?

Northern Ireland has tended to lag behind the UK economically. Traditional industries such as manufacturing and shipbuilding have seen significant decline due to increased competition from cheaper Asian rivals. Harland and Wolff, whose Goliath and Samson cranes define Belfast’s Titanic quarter, hasn’t built a ship since the Anvil Point, a Ministry of Defence ferry built in 2003. Having moved towards building infrastructure such as offshore wind turbines, it is only now seeing the return of shipbuilding with a contract to fabricate replenishment-at-sea support ships for the Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary. 

The CSO estimates that in 2022, Irish GDP will grow by about 12.2%. This contrasts to the modest increase of 2.6% to 3.1% predicted by PwC for Northern Ireland, half a percentage point behind the rest of the UK. 

Northern Ireland has typically had a disproportionately large public sector, funded by subsidies from Westminster. Three of the top ten largest Northern Irish firms are statutory corporations, such as Translink (Northern Irish equivalent the Republic’s CIÉ) and NI Water. This compares to the Republic, where the ESB is the only statutory corporation in the top ten by revenue. 

Northern Ireland does though enjoy cheaper costs than the rest of the UK and then the Republic. Average house prices for the final quarter of 2022 were about €200,000, compared to average house prices of around €310,000 in the Republic of Ireland, €217,000 in Scotland, €250,000 in Wales and €360,000 in England. By home-ownership prospects being better and wages remaining comparatively lower, Northern Ireland is attractive for multinationals looking for European bases.

The Windsor Framework however, focuses on streamlining the trade of physical goods, and does not really change the playing field for Northern Ireland in terms of services. Talk of a ‘Singapore of Europe’ might be premature. Yet there is hope that international firms looking for access to both EU and UK markets with access to an English-speaking workforce and low costs could result in increased FDI into the region, especially with firms mindful of tight housing and office supplies in the Republic. 

Given the DUP’s opposition thus far to the agreement and the subsequent decision of the Orange Order to reject it, the future of the agreement is anything but certain. Firms looking to invest want certainty. 

No Credit in the Bank

In a shocking turn of events, Credit Suisse – the second largest lender in Switzerland – has been acquired by UBS in a shotgun marriage on March 19, 2023. The failure of Credit Suisse has been attributed to a spill over of market fear caused by the default of regional banks in America, notably Silicon Valley Bank. Investors turned their attention to the European market, speculating on which bank would be the next to falter. With numerous scandals plaguing the Swiss lender, it was an easy target for speculators.

Credit Suisse had tried to transition into the investment banking styles found in the US and UK but this has only resulted in a series of scandals. The bank has been accused of allowing drug dealers to launder money, of giving loans to corrupt government officials in Mozambique, and more recently of allowing a massive data leak in 2022. Notably, Credit Suisse participated in an absurd situation where they surveilled former executive Iqbal Khan after he joined rival UBS. Due to the acquisition, Mr. Khan is now attempting to keep Credit Suisse bankers for UBS.

However, many banks of this size experience their fair share of scandals. What worried investors most was Credit Suisse’s underperformance – its revenues have fallen roughly 50% in the last ten years. This, coupled with rising interest rates and a general lack of confidence in the bank’s new management, made it an easy target. All eyes turned to the Saudi National bank, 9.9% shareholders of Credit Suisse. Ammar Al Khudairy, chairman of the Saudi National bank was asked if they would provide liquidity or further investment if Credit Suisse experienced more problems, to which Mr. Al Khudairy responded ‘absolutely not’. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as Credit Suisse’s stock began to tumble after this interview.

Swiss regulators stepped in to force UBS to acquire Credit Suisse hoping to salvage as much value as possible from the failing banks as well as trying to reduce spill over effects. As part of the acquisition Swiss regulators promised common shareholders some form of compensation. Alternative Tier 1 (AT1) bonds were rendered worthless as a result of this ruling, which caused controversy among bondholders because it appeared to deny the widely held belief that debt is given priority over equity in bankruptcy. The central bank of the UK has condemned this decision and assured AT1 bondholders that they will hold preference over common equity in the event of a failure of a British bank. However, the Swiss regulators defended their decision citing the fact the AT1 bonds were created to absorb losses in this type of scenario.

The failure of Credit Suisse has shattered investors’ hopes that the banking crisis was limited to US regional banks. Attention has now turned to finding the next victim of the liquidity crisis. Deutsche Bank has come under fire but seems to have weathered a nervous period where its stock had dropped over 8% on one Friday. The stock rebounded over 4% on the following Monday. Central banks across Europe have also come out in defence of their banks citing the stricter regulations they adhere to compared to US banks. The ECB have also raised interest rates by 50 basis points. Although this may create further strain on the banking system, it is also a show of confidence that the banks can handle another hike in interest rates.

Natural Capital Accounting: An Interview with Prof. Jane Stout

“Natural Capital underpins all other capitals – it is fundamental to human life and society. Without it, we wouldn’t be here…’’

Natural Capital Accounting (‘NCA’) is a fascinating tool for risk evaluation that can potentially aid the fight against climate change. TBR correspondent, Petro Visage, recently spoke with Jane Stout, an ecologist and Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin to learn more about her work with NCA. Stout is Trinity’s Vice President for Biodiversity and Climate Action, where she works with the Provost to oversee the development, coordination and implementation of Trinity’s Sustainability strategy.


In 2012, Stout invited Prof. Gretchen Daily to give a lecture on natural capital in Trinity. Prof. Daily worked with a small group to raise the profile of NCA in Ireland, chairing Ireland’s first conference on natural capital and co-founding the Irish Forum on Natural Capital in 2014. She oversaw the transition of the Forum to Natural Capital Ireland CLG in 2018, and chaired the Board of Directors until 2022. During this period, Prof. Stout organised a major Natural Capital conference in 2016, and co-convened the National Biodiversity Conference in 2019. She is the Principal Investigator for the first project to develop Natural Capital Accounting at catchment scale in Ireland (funded by the EPA), which is led by Trinity, in partnership with UCD, UL, UoG and NCI.

Natural Capital Accounting

What is natural capital accounting and why is it important?

NCA is a framework for systematising environmental information and the benefits we derive from nature. The information is then linked to economic accounting systems. Firms can benefit as it makes otherwise invisible impacts and dependencies on nature salient on the balance sheet. NCA can help businesses identify risk and to track change over time. 

Examples of firms that benefit from ecosystem services

All companies, regardless of sector, have impacts and dependencies on nature, but these are often indirect and unrecognised. It is easy to see how primary industries rely on ‘free’ services from nature. For example, agricultural production needs healthy soils, pollination, and climate stability – all of which are supplied by nature. However, secondary and tertiary industries also rely on nature for the products they process, use or sell. For example, a beautician may use a product that contains shea butter, which comes from shea fruits from trees that grow in the parkland of West Africa, which need insect pollinators to visit flowers in order to produce fruit. In the past, the role of nature in providing these ‘free’ services such as soil structure and functioning, carbon sequestration and climate regulation, nutrient cycling, natural pest control and pollination, was excluded from economic models. Instead, practices that damaged the delivery of those services were considered ‘externalities’ – an indirect cost to society. NCA allows the full costs and benefits of business, not just in financial terms, but in biophysical terms as well, to be quantified and tracked over time.

How exactly does it tackle climate change?

While NCA does not directly tackle climate change, it allows nations and companies to determine the impact of their activities on carbon sequestration and storage and to modify their approaches as a result. It thus informs sustainable strategies. 

Natural capital is one of the 6 capital types of the integrative reporting framework (IRF) – could you elaborate on how natural capital affects other capitals?

Natural Capital underpins all other capitals – it is fundamental to human life and society. Without it, we would not be here. We would have no primary industry; nothing to eat, build with, trade or sell. The economy is bound by the environment, not separate from it, and infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet. In the past decades, whilst other capitals have grown, natural capital has shrunk. If the stock of natural capital (consider it as an asset) shrinks, then the flow of goods and services we derive from it also declines. 

Most students walk out of accounting and finance modules with no knowledge of integrative reporting frameworks or natural capital. Do you believe such classes to be outdated ? 

Yes – in the future, understanding all forms of capital is going to be crucial. Human populations are continuing to grow, increasing demand for resources more rapidly than they can be supplied by nature. Even biologically renewable resources need time and space to renew. We are reaching tipping points in some of the world’s biggest ecosystems, and this will have consequences for society and economies worldwide. For example, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and global climate change has changed local weather systems in the Amazon basin, drying the soils and causing trees to die. In a few years, rainforest can turn into grassy scrub permanently- the implications of this happening are far reaching, affecting not only local agricultural production, national socio-economic stability, and global food markets, but also global weather systems, wildlife, and society. 

Looking forward

Stout suggests that the biggest challenge for firms looking to adopt NCA is the lack of immediate financial returns. However, decisions should not be based purely on financial cost-benefit analysis. The risks associated with such a narrow approach are massive. In the past, it has rendered several  issues, inter alia,  climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, freshwater depletion, and ocean acidification.  It is essential to include the costs and benefits of nature.

With more firms realising this crucial fact, NCA may soon disrupt the status quo of reporting. However, for NCA to make a true impact, more firms need to adopt it rapidly and use it to guide balanced, more sustainable decision-making. 

See and for more. 

The Sur: Implications and Challenges in a Modern South America

Brazil and Argentina have recently unveiled plans to create a common currency. The move would see a monetary union between the world’s twelfth and twenty-seventh largest economies respectively, and the two largest on the South American continent.

With plans to later expand to neighbouring countries, it could create the world’s second largest currency bloc, second only to the Euro. The eurozone currently accounts for 14 per cent of global GDP, while a currency union involving all Latin American nations would account for 5 per cent. 

As the euro was for the European Union in 1999, the currency may serve as the unifying economic force for the Mercosur trading union. The ‘sur’ (meaning ‘south’) would initially run in parallel to the Brazilian real and Argentine peso, and would help in removing reliance on the US dollar.


Originally, Argentine Minister of the Economy Sergio Massa announced the currency as a common currency, akin to the Euro or the CFA Franc. Such a currency would see Brazil and Argentina abandon their own currencies, the real and Peso respectively, and see them both adopt the sur, which would be overseen by a new form of Central Bank. 

President da Silva of Brazil later said that what is planned for now is not a move towards a common currency, but rather a “trading currency,” so that transactions between them could move from peso, to sur, to real, rather than peso to USD to real. This would aid both countries, particularly Argentina to sever its reliance on the USD and would prevent fluctuations in the USD’s value relative to either currency affecting trade, essentially streamlining trade between the countries and giving them greater control. 

The original announcement of a common currency was met with surprise by many investors and financial analysts. While Brazil continues to grow and is set to become one of the world’s preeminent powers, Argentina continues to be stricken with high debt, high inflation, and a struggling economy with a weak industrial base. 

Argentina’s Continuing Woes

A common currency would see the largest economy on the continent shackled to one of the continent’s most troubled. Last year, Argentina had the sixth worst inflation rate in the world, behind only Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Venezuela, Syria and Sudan. 

Argentina has been wracked with financial difficulties for decades, and has been largely restricted from access to international markets following its 2020 default. Inflation now stands at 100% and depositors continue to abandon the peso in favour of more reliable currencies like the USD, weakening the peso further.

Argentine Government debt in September 2022 was 238% of nominal GDP. Successive governments have failed to tackle spiralling prices and continue to borrow and spend. Instead of taking the necessary actions required to control inflation, this worsens the situation. Argentina is now in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to prevent further default, as it seems unlikely it will be able to meet its 2023 goals for foreign currency reserves, taking into account the war in Ukraine and a drought effecting large exports like soy and meat.


The move is part of President Lula de Silva’s attempt to reassert Brazil’s influence in the region and reaffirm ties, which had been strained under the tenure of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro had a strained relationship with Argentina’s left-wing President, Alberto Fernández. The announcement came at a conference to encourage further economic integration in the region. The sur is seen as a possible means to bolster this integration, while helping Argentina in its struggle to replenish its Dollar reserves. 

Argentina is Brazil’s third largest export partner and fourth largest import partner, behind only China and the United States. Meanwhile, Brazil is Argentina’s largest export market, and largest import market. The sur would allow Argentina to continue purchasing Brazilian industrial goods, by better controlling the purchasing power of the peso relative to the real.  

Many believed that the announcement was nothing more than a theoretical project doomed to fail, given the disparity between the two nations. Even with the less ambitious plans for a trading currency, there are significant challenges. Brazil and Argentina proposed a similar currency in 1987 called the ‘gaucho.’ That plan never went passed the declaration.

Meta faced with €390 million fine for breaching EU privacy rules

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, as well as owner of Instagram and WhatsApp, is the largest social media company in the world. With such power, comes great responsibility. However, Meta is failing to be responsible regarding compliance of their data and privacy policies with GDPR rules. From data breaches to forced consent, Meta has faced many investigations since the establishment of the GDPR in 2018.

Most recently, Meta has been fined €390 million for breaching EU privacy rules. This is the result of two investigations which began in 2018, one regarding Facebook and the other Instagram. Both investigations were prompted by Meta’s terms and conditions for the use of both Facebook and Instagram. Essentially, the complainants claimed that Meta was forcing users to accept and consent to the processing of their data, as users would otherwise be unable to use its services. It was argued that this ‘forced’ consent breached GDPR. 

The result was a €210 million and €180 million fine for both Facebook and Instagram respectively, due to a lack of transparency and contravention of Article 6 of the GDPR which states that processing is lawful if the data subject consented to the processing of their data and if the processing is necessary under certain grounds. As well as that, Meta was given a three-month period to ensure its data processing operations were compliant with EU GDPR laws. Unsurprisingly, Meta plans to appeal the decision and argue that their approach to consent respects GDPR. 

This is not the first fine imposed on Meta by the Irish Data Protection Commission. In November 2022, Meta was fined €265 million for a data breach in which 533 million users’ names, phone numbers and email addresses were published online, of which 1.3 million were from Ireland. The continuous fines that Meta is facing from the Irish Data Protection Commission, which have now accumulated to over €1 billion, will likely prompt users to reflect about the data and ‘consent’ they provide on social media platforms. 

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