Brussels’ offer to cut Brexit-related paperwork on food exports to Northern Ireland (NI) by 80% does not solve key agricultural problems, according to industry executives.
Strict controls and multiple certifications on products of animal and plant origin, known as the NI protocol, were imposed on January 1.
But the controls have stifled trade and increased political tensions.
However, in a bid to move the talks forward, Brussels announced several key changes.
- 80% reduction in physical checks on GB food products arriving in NI
- 50% reduction in paperwork for NI-based importers
- Expanded agreements for trusted traders allowing more businesses to benefit from tariff exemptions
- Increased discussions with NI sales organizations
Announcing the proposals, EU Vice President Maros Šefčovič said more than 80% of previously required identity and physical checks would be removed, allowing food to flow more freely.
Mr Šefčovič added that duplicate certificates for consignments of dairy products, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables transferred from GB to NI would be removed.
Instead, only one certificate would be needed to declare that all products of different types, classes or descriptions comply with EU law.
In practice, this means that a truck loaded with 100 different food items would only need one document rather than the current 100 separate certificates.
The proposals are accompanied by a caveat. Mr Šefčovič said the UK government must commit to carrying out the remaining checks properly.
The UK government must do its part – for example, by ensuring that permanent border checkpoints are operational, as agreed long ago, Šefčovič said.
“We also need specific safeguards in place, like clear labels and the ability to monitor every link in the supply chain,” he added.
Lack of detail
But although British agricultural leaders have welcomed the move, the lack of details on agricultural products is cause for concern.
NFU Chief International Trade Advisor Gail Soutar said it was not clear whether the announcement would affect farm-to-farm trade.
“The NI protocol is not just about supermarket food. There are key issues like the movement of seed potatoes and other stocks of certified seeds and plants were not covered by the announcement, ”said Ms. Soutar.
“The first point that we must emphasize is that any easement or measure must cover the whole food sector, including at the farm level,” she said.
Bans on the movement of seed potato and horticultural seed stocks, along with other certified seed issues, have resulted in shortages for NI producers.
Livestock and show animal movements have also been hit hard by the NI protocol, which requires long and impractical downtime.
“Therefore, while we welcome the announcement, these issues need to be urgently addressed and addressed,” said Ms Soutar.
Ulster Farmers’ Union President Victor Chestnutt echoed Ms Soutar’s point of view.
He welcomed the proposed changes, but said more movement was needed to help struggling farmers on both sides of the Irish Sea.
“There are a lot of issues covered in the package of measures, but we will need to get more details quickly, examine them and clarify them on the basis of commitments with those responsible.
“In the short time available, we intend to meet with the UK government and the EU to discuss these proposals in detail and we look forward to understanding how these proposals will work for NI agriculture.”