The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has released a report highlighting key measures its members believe will be needed to keep trade between Northern Ireland (NI) and Great Britain (GB) moving efficiently after the Brexit transition period ends.
During the transition period, trade arrangements between NI and the rest of the UK are continuing as if the UK were still a member of the European Union.
But despite political assurances, industry experts are concerned that once the transition ends on 31 December, the ease with which trade is conducted between GB and NI will be impacted due to the special terms or ‘protocol’ for the Irish border, outlined as part of EU withdrawal arrangements.
The protocol establishes that Northern Ireland remains part of UK customs territory and that tariffs are therefore not payable when moving goods between GB and NI. However, if goods are deemed “at risk of” then moving on into the EU, a tariff may be applied. If paid by default, this could be reimbursed later once proven that the goods did not move into the EU.
EU customs processes will need to be implemented between NI and GB in order to ensure any appropriate duties are paid, which have the potential to cause administrative disruption and additional costs for transport operators and related businesses.
“Consideration should be given to movements on the island of Ireland, as the protocol in the withdrawal agreement does not address road freight connectivity,” warned FTA.
“The UK and the EU must negotiate an agreement allowing for the free passage of commercial vehicles on similar terms as at present for the island of Ireland that will help protect current long-standing cross border supply chains with 70 per cent cross border freight consisting of ingredients and components.
“Clear and enforceable rules, providing for non-discrimination of all operators, should be in place. Transport Manager and Driver Certificates of Professional Competence (CPC), as well as driver licences, should be mutually recognised without the need to retake tests or exchange qualifications,” argued the association.
“Cabotage rights should be preserved.”
Further measures FTA suggests will be required to ensure the industry can make post-transition logistics work include early engagement with businesses, to ensure they have advanced warning of any new processes and requirements.
Red tape, cost and other frictions must also be minimised, says the association; for example, it is calling for a safety and security agreement to remove the need for entry and exit summary declarations between GB and NI.
“For this to work, it would also be likely that the same process would… be required on shipping between GB and NI,” said FTA.
The association is also advocating a mutual recognition agreement for Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status, which would provide accredited business with access to benefits on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Meanwhile, a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement could remove the need for physical checks on agrifood products and other products of plant or animal origin, or at least reduce them drastically, FTA said.
“Industry needs to identify ways and means to demonstrate what goods moved from GB to NI would be classified as ‘not at risk’ and to then make use of a facilitation to avoid unnecessary formalities and checks,” said the report.
“Consideration should be given to the unique geographical situation regarding trade entering the island of Ireland and where goods entering from Great Britain can be identified as not being at risk to the single market, derogations should be applied to such trade to ensure continued frictionless transit and minimal formalities.”
FTA also supports zero tariffs and quotas for UK products in the EU and vice versa, matters which are still to be negotiated between the UK and EU during the transition period.
It also called for derogations for retail-related freight which makes up around two thirds of all ro-ro activity into NI from GB; assistance with the cost of transition; customs training and support to build capacity; the preservation of staff mobility between NI and the Irish Republic; and simplified controls for NI goods moving to GB via the Republic.
Seamus Leheny, policy manager for Northern Ireland at FTA, said: “Logistics is an adaptable and resilient industry; we are determined to make a success of the protocol and this report is designed to assist government in this shared ambition.
“The protocol puts NI in the unique position of being able to trade freely with the UK and EU while protecting all island supply chains on the island of Ireland; however, we must ensure NI businesses are not disadvantaged within the UK internal market by any burdensome financial or practical barriers to this trade…
“We have launched the report… to coincide with the next official government meeting on the protocol; it is vital the government listens to the guidance of industry and understands the measures it should take to keep goods moving as efficiently as possible.”
He added: “Northern Ireland’s future prosperity depends on the protocol being implemented with minimum disruptions and we stand ready to work with both Stormont and Westminster to ensure that NI’s businesses and trade remain as resilient as possible in the coming months and years.”