Irish companies are using up to 20 new trade routes to get goods to continental Europe in the wake of Brexit, according to the head of business lobby group Chambers Ireland.
Ian Talbot said businesses here were increasingly avoiding the UK landbridge by using direct ferries to Europe as an alternative to avoid customs issues.
Using the traditional UK landbridge – Dublin-Holyhead-Dover-Calais – was now taking up to 15 hours longer, he told the European Parliament Committee on International Trade on Tuesday.
“Another interesting dynamic is how trade routes have shifted with an unprecedented at least 20 different route interventions particularly for Roro (roll-on roll-off) direct into Europe that used to use the landbridge,” he said.
The new routes include: Dublin-Rotterdam-Zeebrugge; Rosslare-Dunkirk; Rosslare-Bilbao; and Cork-Antwerp-Zeebrugge.
Many companies are now also sourcing goods and inputs from EU countries at higher prices because of the uncertain delivery times from Britain, Mr Talbot said, noting direct trade with the EU increased by 13 per cent or €4 billion last year.
The EU committee was convened to discuss "trade-related aspects" of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Talbot said that while the protocol offered Northern Ireland a unique opportunity of being simultaneously inside and outside the EU for trading purposes, there are challenges in the practical operation of it.
“There are frictions in bringing goods from Britain to the island, and so many microbusinesses do not have the resources or expertise to understand the new requirements and so find them a barrier to trade,” he said.
Imports from Britain
While trading ties between Northern Ireland and the Republic have strengthened in the wake of Brexit, it does not make up for the pronounced fall-off in imports from Britain, he said.
Central Statistics Office figures show imports from Britain to the Republic fell by about a fifth last year while exports going the other way increased.
“Irish businesses are finding the supply chains within Britain are weak and time to delivery can be uncertain, whereas trade from Ireland to Great Britain continues to grow,” Mr Talbot said.
“Our friends in the British chambers of commerce tell us that their smaller members, particularly those within ICT, are withdrawing from Northern Ireland’s market as result of customs complications (for many of the same reasons that Northern Irish firms are finding the customs arrangements problematic),” he said.
“ There are also indications that some of the larger British firms are withdrawing from the market in Ireland too. This unfortunately gives certain commentators reason to criticise the protocol,” he added.