Imports from Northern Ireland to the Republic have risen by 77 per cent since the UK left the EU at the start of the year, while the value of exports from the Republic to the North has risen by 43 per cent, according to fresh Central Statistics Office (CSO) data.
The agency’s latest trade numbers show the value of goods imports from Northern Ireland rose to €1.77 billion in the first six months of 2021, up from just under €1 billion for the same period last year.
Exports to the North, meanwhile, rose to €1.57 billion, up from €1.1 billion last year.
Under the Northern Ireland protocol, trade in goods with Britain is subject to customs checks. However, while Northern Ireland remains within the customs territory of the UK, it is simultaneously within the EU single market for the movement of goods. This means goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic are not subject to customs checks.
The North’s Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons of the DUP said “any increase in sales to any new markets is positive”. But he insisted Great Britain was “Northern Ireland’s most important market both by volume and value. The protocol creates a barrier and is clearly diverting trade,” he said.
“The [UK] government has made the right noises but we continue to press for real change which removes the border in the Irish Sea and allow unfettered trade within the United Kingdom.”
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said it was "always inevitable" that some Irish buyers would look North to achieve continuity of supply post-Brexit.
“What is surprising us, and probably most people, is the quantum of that change. There’s basically nearly €800 million worth of additional sales of Northern Irish goods into [the Republic of] Ireland in the first six months of this year, which is enormous,” he said.
“It proves that market access is as critical for trade as anything else and it also shows that the protocol does provide opportunities for Northern Irish producers. The challenge we do have is that we won’t know the quantum of the disruption on trade from Britain into Northern Ireland for at least another year. Anecdotally, it’s clear from manufacturers and indeed others in business in the North that they’ve been scrambling to try to continue their own continuity of supply as life has become too difficult to bring goods from Britain.”
The SDLP’s Brexit spokesperson, South Belfast Assembly member Matthew O’Toole, said the CSO statistics “show that Northern Ireland exporters are benefitting from their unique position under the protocol”.
He added: “Yes, there are issues that need resolved around Britain to Northern Ireland trade but it will unforgivable if we sacrifice something the North has lacked for decades – competitive advantage and economic opportunity.”