Belfast Telegraph

Margaret Canning: All-island Brexit food zone would only solve part of the problem


Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Talk over the last few days of an all-Ireland zone for food as a means of avoiding the backstop could be a glimmer of hope in the attempts to avoid a hard border on the island after Brexit.

But not everyone in the world of business relishes the prospect of such an arrangement, which would make Ireland a single Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) zone.

Yes, it would be a relief to producers whose goods are sold into the Republic, such as the dairy farmers whose milk is processed there. But it's scant consolation to exporters of others goods into the Republic, such as medical devices manufacturer TG Eakin. Of its £33m sales in the year to the end of March, £13.4m were generated in Europe, £17m in the rest of the world and just £3m in the UK.

Angela McGowan, the regional director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said an all-island SPS "only sorts a small fraction of a large problem". "Other manufacturing is not included and checks will have to be done anyway as consignments across the border often contain more than one type of good," she added.

But the CBI is in support of a wider Northern Ireland-only backstop - "something different will have to apply to NI to account for our unique geography, history and the all-island economy".

Ms McGowan concluded that the suggestion from the Prime Minister of an all-Ireland agri-food zone was "nowhere near what is needed".

Yet others believe that as the agri-food industry is the most integrated part of the all-Ireland economy, it is a logical and good place to start.

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"It's a step in the right direction, and the business community wants a solution," said one observer.

But he cautioned those business people who have said that they need certainty above all else.

"People talk about wanting certainty at any cost, even if certainty means falling off a cliff-edge of no-deal. But that's not necessarily a good thing," he added.

Despite the legislation which has passed in Parliament - and even the dramatic court ruling in Scotland that the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue Parliament is illegal - a no-deal is not off the table. And while plenty of businesses can afford to spend money on planning for an eventuality which may never happen, for others, it's a luxury they can't afford.

Belfast Telegraph