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Workers in the transport, logistics and distribution sectors deserve great credit, says Tánaiste

Q&A with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment

1. Can you describe some of the adverse impacts on supply chains which Irish firms have had to contend with as a result of Covid-19?

The onset of the global pandemic did cause major disruption to international travel and logistics, including air, sea and road haulage services. Freight transport and logistics were able to find alternative routes to market and the Government also worked closely with our EU partners to ensure the continuity of road haulage across Europe during the peak of the virus earlier this year.

2. What steps can they take to mitigate these impacts?

One of the biggest changes we have seen is the move to online buying and selling, in particular among small firms. Over 10,000 businesses have availed of the grants and mentoring available to move their business online. Our Local Enterprise Offices have been crucial to helping with that transition. Other firms have taken steps to build resilience by switching to new suppliers of certain goods and finding alternative ways of transportation to and from their premises, including alternative routes to market.

3. In your opinion, have Irish firms done well in dealing with supply chain disruption since the beginning of the pandemic?

This year has been extremely challenging for businesses, there’s no doubt about it. Overall, Ireland’s supply chains have adapted well and proven to be resilient and secure. Workers in the transport, logistics and distribution sectors deserve great credit for their role in sustaining the continuity and efficiency of food, medical and other key supply chains.

4. Closer to home, Brexit will result in quite severe supply chain disruptions regardless of whether there is a deal or not. What disruptions should Irish firms pay most attention to? 

The UK will no longer apply the rules of the EU Single Market and Customs Union from the 1st of January 2020, so it is important that businesses prepare now for new customs procedures and regulatory requirements for trade with the UK, excluding Northern Ireland. Specifically, firms will need to file their customs declarations electronically in advance of entering ports to embark on ferries.

Similarly, imports of certain products of animal origin will be subject to mandatory checks at ports and it is important that consignments are loaded for ease of access and inspection by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

In addition, certain chemical imports may be subject to inspection by the Health and Safety Authority and again it is important that importers ensure their products are fully compliant with EU regulatory requirements.

For those businesses and freight providers using the Landbridge to EU markets, they also need to ensure they have all necessary documentation in order with both Irish customs authorities and the UK HRMC. Direct routes to the continent are of course available and ferry services are increasing in January, so many businesses may divert traffic to those routes in the first instance.

5. What steps can firms take to mitigate Brexit-related disruptions? What supports are available from Government to assist firms in this regard?

My Department has produced a Brexit Readiness Checklist, that lists the steps businesses can take now to get ready for the changes Brexit will bring from January 1st, 2021 and is available on www.gov.ie/brexit.

I encourage business to assess their supply chain and engage with their shipping and logistics companies to examine the range of options for continuity of supply chains, including the use of direct sailings to the continent. All businesses need to assess their finance and liquidity needs for the coming months and should apply for low-cost loans provided by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland if needed.

The Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland each have grant and advisory help available to businesses to examine their Brexit exposure. Regulatory agencies such as the Health and Safety Authority and National Standards Authority of Ireland also offer advice and guidance on matters such as product certification and the importation of chemicals.

To help businesses manage the new customs declarations requirements, we are also providing a grant of €9,000 for the hiring of additional staff under the ‘Ready for Customs’ scheme, which is available from Enterprise Ireland. Skillnet Ireland has also launched a free online customs training programme, Clear Customs.

6. Have you any overall message for firms struggling to meet the challenge of Covid-19 and Brexit-related supply chain disruptions?

My message is 'Don't delay, Act Now'. I know it's been a really tough year, and this feels like another burden but it's really important to take action now. All businesses trading with the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, will have to file customs declarations from January 1st, so it is essential that those firms have registered with Revenue, have the right software installed and know how to fill out the forms correctly. All businesses, large or small, need to assess their supply chains and take the necessary steps to mitigate against disruption. I encourage all businesses to take advantage of all the advice, supports and toolkits available across Government and regularly check for updates on www.gov.ie/Brexit.