The British Government’s proposals for future customs arrangements and the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland following Brexit do not go far enough to ensure free trade, according to the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).
ICOS represents over 130 co-operatives in Ireland — including dairy processors and livestock marts. These associated businesses have a combined turnover of some €15bn with around 150,000 individual members. They employ 12,000 people in Ireland and another 24,000 people overseas.
ICOS European affairs executive Alison Graham said the British proposals are heading in the right direction, but they do not address the concerns of EU member states and businesses and would drastically complicate customs arrangements for EU-UK trade.
“Despite reassurances against a return to a border between the north and south of Ireland, the proposed ‘streamlined’ customs model would result in just that. It would require declarations of imports and exports on all EU-UK trade, and although reduced bureaucracy for so-called ‘authorised economic operators’ is proposed, it would still mean a considerable increase in administration and costs for business,” she said.
She added: “Trade in fresh agri-food products could be threatened by customs delays, and north-south supply and processing chains would be severely damaged.”
Ms Graham said it is unrealistic to think technology would be sufficient to control the 300 plus official and many more unofficial road crossings between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The outlined ‘partnership’ customs arrangement, which would involve the UK imposing EU rules and tariffs on all third country goods, except those destined for UK domestic use, would be unworkable in practice.
While this proposal suggests no border would be required, it poses the risk that Northern Ireland would become a back door for third country imports which do not live up to EU rules and to which EU customs duties have not been applied.
Ms Graham said the call for a transitional arrangement would maintain the current trading and customs relationship was welcome and essential to give businesses the necessary time to adjust to new arrangements.
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