Thousands of lorries leave Dublin and Rosslare ports daily to travel to Britain and the wider European market. The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) said the charge, due by 2008, would act as a free trade barrier.
“While the charge is attractive to UK authorities because of its potential to extract revenue from foreign hauliers, the proposed system has a massive potential to disproportionately penalise Irish business,” said its director of transport Reg McCabe.
Under the scheme, British hauliers will be granted a reduced duty on fuel to protect their incomes. The British government has said it is determined to ensure that foreign lorry companies pay their fair share towards the cost of using British roads.
But Mr McCabe estimated the cost to Irish businesses would be at least twice the 30 million figure cited in a recent study for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).
The NIO consultancy study found that industry in the North might divert business to Irish ports in a bid to avoid the road charging, resulting in a potential drop of 50% in roll-on, roll-off traffic at Larne port and a 33% drop at Belfast port.
The Irish Road Hauliers Association said the charging was contrary to the principles of the EU. “The principles of the EU is that people have the right to move goods around without hindrance and there’s been a rowback in that position by Britain,” said spokesman Jimmy Quinn.