Business organisations have largely welcomed the Brexit hard border breakthrough, but cautioned that there is a long road ahead in negotiations, before trade arrangements become certain.
PwC trade and customs expert, John O’Loughlin, said while there has been agreement on no hard border, the question remained as to the type of border that will be put in place.
“With the UK reconfirming its intention to leave the single market and customs union, a border of some type will be required. We would expect a type of electronic border, with technological solutions, to be put in place, with a strong focus being placed on the internal controls of importers/exporters,” he said.
Mr O’Loughlin said the application of customs duties, and delays at the port, should continue to be a high Brexit risk.
“In our recent experience, Irish businesses will rely on strong co-operation from their UK partners, in order to reduce or eliminate both customs duty and administrative costs,” he added.
Chartered Accountants Ireland said that while it welcomed the breakthrough, it was calling for “a sense of urgency and clarity to be injected” into the next phase of trade talks. “The Commission and the UK need to urgently inject some reality into the situation and set out a realistic timetable. March, 2019 is fast-approaching and given how long it took to reach agreement on phase one, we are very concerned that time is running out to reach agreement on the future trade relationship.
“Businesses can’t work with false deadlines. If there is to be a transition period beyond March, 2019, and in order make the exit date more manageable, this should be decided on as early as possible,” said the body’s president, Shauna Greely.
Chambers Ireland chief executive, Ian Talbot, said while the avoidance of a hard border was a “remarkable achievement”, great uncertainties remain for businesses.
“We emphasise the urgency of starting second-phase talks as soon as possible, so that when the inevitable complications emerge, they can be addressed early in the process. The need for a realistic timeframe for transition must also be addressed. The complexity of issues that business will face, following the UK’s departure from the EU, is likely to require a transition period lasting several years, and ensuring agreement on this must be a focus of the next round of negotiations,” he said.
Toni Forrester, chief executive of Letterkenny Chamber, said she “cautiously welcomed” the border commitments, but warned that much detail remained to be sorted. “I just hope the next round of negotiations works out for our border counties. The next bit around trade tariffs is probably even more important, because that’s how businesses will figure out what their goods will cost,” she said.
The president of the Irish Hotels Federation claimed the avoidance of a hard border was a “major boost” for tourism in both the Republic and the North. Joe Dolan said: “This is a major boost for tourism, especially for the border counties, which are heavily reliant on visitors from Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Today’s announcement gives some certainty to issues that would directly impact tourism and threatened the continued development of this sector, which supports an estimated 230,000 jobs in Ireland, equivalent to 11% of total employment.”