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UK, EU working on data access to resolve post-Brexit trade row

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain agreed on Monday a way forward on sharing live data with the European Union on trade with Northern Ireland, a step towards resolving longstanding issues arising from post-Brexit trade rules governing the region.

British foreign minister James Cleverly and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the deal in London was an important step towards further talks on the trading rules, known as the Northern Ireland protocol.

"They agreed that while a range of critical issues need to be resolved to find a way forward, an agreement was reached today on the way forward regarding the specific question of the EU's access to UK IT systems," a joint statement said.

"They noted this work was a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions."

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters the agreement was "an important step forwards".

Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin welcomed the joint statement and said he would be in Brussels on Tuesday for talks including on the protocol.

In order to preserve a 1998 peace deal between British territory Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland and avoid a hard border between the two, Britain agreed as part of its departure from the EU to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the bloc's single market for goods.

That has necessitated checks since January 2021 on some goods coming from the rest of the United Kingdom although Britain has not implemented many of them after applying grace periods. It has also subsequently sought to rewrite the deal to reduce those barriers and promote the free flow of goods.

The EU has long sought live or semi-live data on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland in order to work out whether to carry out checks on arrival.

Britain has built a new system to provide the EU with real-time customs data relating to Northern Ireland, safety and security declarations and some transit information, to try to ease EU concerns that goods could enter Ireland without paying EU customs.

"We are pleased that they are starting to use the system now and are broadly working with the (UK government) to make ongoing improvements," Sunak's spokesperson said.

"There is some progress but there are still significant issues at the heart of the protocol that need addressing," referring to issues such as the role of the European Court of Justice in any trade dispute.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper; Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Padraic Halpin; Writing by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by William James, William Maclean and Alison Williams)