North ‘deeply worried’ about future of cross-Border trade

Businesses fear impact of potential customs tariffs despite May’s reassurances

 Businesses in areas such as Newry worry about how the UK’s post-Brexit plan will affect  their day-to-day operations.

Businesses in areas such as Newry worry about how the UK’s post-Brexit plan will affect their day-to-day operations.

 

Businesses in the North are “deeply worried” about the future for cross-Border trade and the rights of Irish citizens to work in Northern Ireland despite Theresa May’s reassurances about maintaining the common travel area with the Republic.

The British prime minister’s Brexit 12-point plan has provided some “welcome guidance”, according to key industry leaders, but little comfort to Northern Ireland firms who are desperately worried about the impact potential tariffs could have on their future.

Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of the Derry Chamber of Commerce, said businesses in the northwest wanted to retain membership of the European Single Market and the Customs Union.

“It seems they will have neither,” Ms McLaughlin said.

“There is a lack of clarity with regard to customs tariffs. If cross-Border transactions become subject to tariffs, this will be a major disruption to local trade. Many companies have bases on both sides of the Border. It is unclear how customs tariffs would affect them. If the UK ends up with the abolition of agricultural subsidies and tariff-free food trade with South America, the result could be the near total destruction of Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry – one of our largest sectors,” she warned.

One of the chief concerns for businesses, especially those based in Border regions such as Derry and Newry, is how the UK’s post-Brexit plan will impact on their day-to-day operations.

“Practical solution”

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the organisation said: “We welcome her commitment to maintaining the common travel area with the Republic and making it a priority to deliver a practical solution as quickly as possible to the question of the land border with the Irish State.

“The prime minister says she also wants a customs agreement with the EU which could mean partial membership of the customs union. However, NI Chamber believes that this must come without costly customs checks and administrative costs for businesses which would pose a threat to Irish cross-Border trade.”

According to Angela McGowan, director of the Confederation of British Industry, close co-operation and a partnership approach between North and South is “essential if the Northern Ireland economy is to succeed”.

“Given the importance of the EU to Northern Ireland exports, the significance of leaving the single market is an important issue for the local economy. While local businesses want to make a success of Brexit, there are undoubtedly concerns about falling back on damaging World Trade Organisation rules,” she warned.

Wilfred Mitchell, policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses in the North, said business owners also need to see the “detail on the mechanism” of how Theresa May intends to deliver a practical solution to the Border issue.

Currencies

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

Aodhán Connolly , director of the NIRC said: “It is crucial that the UK gets a new deal that works for ordinary consumers, which doesn’t hit them with the costs of new import tariffs at a time when the pound is already weakened.

The Westminster government has an opportunity to secure a win-win deal that works for the UK economy, by keeping prices down for consumers, while allowing the EU to continue benefiting from its open-trade relationship with the UK. This is especially important in Northern Ireland where our consumers have half of the discretionary household income of our Great Britain counter parts.”