Varadkar off to Canada in bid to boost trade after UK exit
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to travel to Canada in a bid to develop new trade relations ahead of Brexit.
The Taoiseach said the UK's impending exit from the European Union increased the need for Ireland to explore overseas markets.
His visit to Canada will be the second meeting he has held with prime minister Justice Trudeau in as many months.
Mr Varadkar will be in Montreal and Toronto for three days from Sunday.
"In the context of Brexit, it is more important than ever that the Irish Government seeks to expand our markets overseas and strengthen our relationships with major trading partners," he said.
Mr Varadkar will hold talks with political and business leaders on investment, trade and tourism opportunities for Ireland. He will also meet members of the Irish community and emigrant support services.
The visit begins with a bilateral meeting between the Taoiseach and Mr Trudeau in Montreal before both men attend the city's Pride parade.
The talks take place ahead of the new Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) coming into effect on September 21.
The two leaders are also expected to discuss the latest Brexit developments, including the UK's policy paper on customs controls, which was released yesterday.
That plan would see the UK develop an interim customs agreement with the EU after Brexit to allow the freest possible trade of goods, but Britain would also seek the right to negotiate other trade deals.
However, the idea has been heavily criticised by European figures.
The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: "To be in and out of the customs union and 'invisible borders' is a fantasy."
He said the UK needed to focus on citizens' rights and sorting out the 'divorce bill' before moving on to discuss trade.
Similarly, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that the UK needs to focus on "citizens, settling accounts and Ireland".
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the publication of policy papers but said it would be "difficult" to facilitate the UK's proposal that it should continue to operate within the customs union while negotiating with third parties.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the idea as "daft".
Brexit Select Committee chairman Hillary Benn said the UK government's "have their trade cake and eat it" stance did not provide the certainty that business needs.
He said the UK should stay in the customs union for the long term, rather than just a transitional period.
Mr Benn said businesses were still not clear on what would happen after Brexit.