Timber industry sees Border checks as part of solution in hard Brexit

Copy measures in use on US-Canadian and Norwegian-Swedish borders, report suggests

Recommendations made by the Timber Industry Brexit Forum include interchangeable customs officials and mutual recognition of customs officials and police. Photograph: iStock

Recommendations made by the Timber Industry Brexit Forum include interchangeable customs officials and mutual recognition of customs officials and police. Photograph: iStock

 

The timber industry sees a copy of checks on the Canadian-US and Norwegian-Swedish borders as part of preparations for a possible hard Brexit to minimise its impact on Irish-British and cross-Border trade.

Concerned that the UK will crash out of the European Union in March 2019 without a deal, the industry made the observations in a new report aimed at preparing Ireland for the worst post-Brexit.

The industry supports 12,000 jobs and relies on unrestricted trade north and south of the Border and between the UK and the Republic. It has already felt the pinch from Brexit as the fall in the value of sterling is costing the industry an estimated €40 million to €50 million a year.

Among the measures highlighted by the Timber Industry Brexit Forum that includes semi-State forestry firm Coillte are practices in use on the Norwegian-Swedish border such as interchangeable customs officials, mutual trust and training of border officials, and mutual recognition of customs officials and police.

The forum has taken the most effective practices used at the Scandinavian and North American borders to map out measures to reduce the cost of trade in wood products between the Republic and the UK in the report called Brexit: Protecting Growth in the Irish Timber Industry.

“We see elements of these models, together with other smart solutions, as providing the basis for a bespoke model for UK-EU trade which would minimise the impact of Brexit on the Irish timber industry and indeed across many industries in Ireland,” said Fergal Leamy, chief executive of Coillte.

Other solutions include agreeing matching regulations between the EU and the UK on low-risk products and adopting the best international technological practices on number-plate recognition and data collection as well as a mutually recognisable single database for trades.

The industry wants the EU and the UK to agree advanced authorisation mechanisms at the busiest Irish Border crossings and British and Irish ports, and to introduce a fast-track programme similar to one in place under a free-trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico for regular cross-Border travellers.

Lobbying

The report was presented to Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan in Dublin following a period of intensive lobbying by the industry that included meetings with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the Government’s lead Brexit Minister, and Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

The publication comes as the EU and UK struggle to agree on specific solutions to avoid a hard Border in Ireland, leaving the emergency “backstop” that would effectively keep the North in the customs union and elements of the single market after Brexit as the only option on the negotiating table.

Irish timber representatives have warned that a “hard Brexit” is likely to shrink the industry, potentially leading to deforestation and reduced carbon absorption.

The UK is the biggest timber importer in Europe. Almost 80 per cent of Irish timber is exported to the UK. The domestic industry is seen as an all-Ireland business with supply chains operating freely across the Border.

The Irish industry would be badly affected by Brexit because it is restricted from diversifying to other markets beyond the UK due to climate, and the geological features and physical properties of Irish timber.

Future growth of the Irish industry, which aims to double in size over the coming 15 years, is based on continued, unrestricted access to the UK market. The industry contributes €2.3 billion to the economy annually and is a key industry in Irish efforts to tackle climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide.