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Northern Ireland, a black spot in post-Brexit trade relations

A practically empty yoghurt section, fruit juice shelves where three quarters of the products are missing… The Tesco supermarket where Phil Morgan does his shopping in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, has been facing a shortage of fresh produce since the start of the the year. “Local mini-markets are well stocked, but supermarkets which source from Great Britain are experiencing significant stockouts, especially for milk, fruit and vegetables”, he testifies.

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Northern Ireland is a special case after Brexit. This nation is part of the United Kingdom and therefore left the European Union (EU), but it remains de facto within the European single market. This situation makes it possible to avoid the return of a physical border with the Republic of Ireland, which would have raised fears of a resurgence of the violence of the past. However, this means that a trade border is now established between Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Northern Ireland. At the level of ports and airports, customs declarations must be made, even though it is the same country. However, there is no control for the movement of people.

For mass distribution, this constitutes a huge logistical challenge. Supermarkets collect their goods in warehouses in Great Britain, and export in bulk to Northern Ireland just in time. “Concretely, a truck can contain 1,500 to 1,800 different products”, explains Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, a retail federation. Each requires a different export declaration.

Simplify procedures

At the moment, only a few hundred products are missing from stores in Belfast or Derry. The big names say that the situation is now under control. However, in a letter sent to the British government on Tuesday, January 12, six of them (including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s…) sounded the alarm, believing that the worst was to come.

From 1er April, each transport of food products will require a health certificate. Given the intensity of trade relations between the two territories, this is a real challenge. “Inside the same truck, we can have 300 to 400 food products, which would require as many different health certificates”, notes Aodhan Connolly, using the same example. Large retailers demand that London and Brussels urgently open negotiations to simplify procedures. “Both sides say the situation in Northern Ireland is close to their hearts and is a special case, Mr. Connolly continues. Let them prove it and find a solution. ”

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