Six of the UK’s leading retailers – representing more than 75% of the Northern Ireland grocery market – have written to Brexit minister, Lord Frost, and Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, Maroš Šefčovič, calling for urgent action to address the future of GB-NI trade following the end of the Northern Ireland grace period in October.
From October, unless a solution is found, retailers will face increased cost and complexity when moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is a result of increased checks at Northern Ireland ports, additional paperwork requirements, and the need for Export Health Certificates on products of animal origin. The challenges this will create in sourcing could force many retailers to move supply chains from GB to the EU.
Although some actions have been agreed by both sides, such as a recent agreement on the extension to the grace period on the movement of chilled meats, the letter notes that “much more needs to be done before the end of September if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers”.
The letter urges the UK and EU governments to enter discussions with British retailers, visit their supply chains and distribution centres, and host joint talks between government technical officials and retail supply chain experts to find a working solution for GB-NI trade. It warns that “without swift, decisive and co-operative movement on this issue there will be disruption”, calling on both officials to “help us to minimise this disruption and allow us to continue to provide the people of Northern Ireland with choice and affordability”.
Possible solutions include a veterinary agreement, a wider Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, a facilitated movement scheme or a Trusted Trader scheme. Retailers are not only urging the EU and UK Government to agree these measures, which will reduce friction and keep costs down for NI families, but also to provide the time needed to implement such schemes.
The BRC and its members have long campaigned for frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. In January, the UK’s largest supermarkets wrote to the Cabinet Office secretary on the issue, having raised concerns about the potential disruption to supply chains and the effect that would have on households across Northern Ireland after the grace period ends.