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EU deal is welcome, but more work to do – warns retail body

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said more work is required to avoid another cliff edge in three or six months.

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Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, left, and Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly (Northern Ireland Retail Consortium)

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, left, and Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly (Northern Ireland Retail Consortium)

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts, left, and Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly (Northern Ireland Retail Consortium)

A trade deal between the EU and UK has been welcomed along with a warning that more work is required to avoid future cliff edges.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said the group hopes the agreement will protect consumers from billions in import tariffs.

“For Northern Ireland it also means a reduction in new customs frictions between GB and NI,” he said.

“There is still much hard work needed on Northern Ireland issues if we are not to face another cliff edge in three or six months and retailers are to continue to give NI families the choice and affordability that they so desperately need.

“We need as soon as possible to work after Christmas to have the EU, UK Government and NI Executive to work with us to find workable, sustainable long-term solutions.”

Ian Henry, president of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber) also gave a qualified welcome.

“Our members will now need to see the detail and digest the agreement, and consider what its detailed provisions will mean for firms moving goods, people and data across borders,” he said.

“We must now see pragmatic steps to smooth the introduction of the new arrangements from January, including easements for genuine administrative errors, clear procedures at ports, and fast help from customs authorities. Nowhere is this more acute and urgent than for businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“This will not be an easy change for many businesses, who have also been struggling to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the latest enhanced restrictions.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the news will come as a relief to the broader business community.

“The transition period for many retailers and businesses will be a challenge and indeed there is also a huge amount of detail to be scrutinised in this deal,” he said.

“This gives us hope that 2021 will give Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole, an opportunity to start anew with our relationships with the EU and begin the long process of repairing the economic damage caused by the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) chairman Nick Whelan called for more clarity around bureaucracy and dispute resolution.

“As was the case when the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed, this deal is welcome insofar as it takes us from the cliff edge – but it is far from perfect, and we still need clarity on a number of key areas,” he said.

“If the Northern Ireland protocol is to be durable, the UK and EU will need to address the challenges to local consumers of reduced choice and increased cost as a result of new administrative burdens on GB – NI trade.

“Additionally, we need a fair arbitration system to be in place from day one as there will be errors and teething problems as we come to terms with new procedures, and we want to minimise waste.

“Agri food is Northern Ireland’s biggest manufacturing industry. Northern Ireland food and drink is key stakeholder to drive economic recovery and the prosperity of Northern Ireland in the coming decade.

“It is one of the few sectors in Northern Ireland to have announced increased investment over recent months. With the right support we can continue to grow even stronger, and make the most of any opportunities that will be presented post-Brexit.”

PA


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