Alcohol legislation in Republic 'poses barrier to cross-border trade' for producers in Northern Ireland

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill (left) with Jarlath Watson, finance director of Echlinville Distillery in Newtownards

ALCOHOL producers in Northern Ireland say they have "grave concerns" about the impact that pending legislation in the Republic will have on their ability to export products across the border, contravening the Irish Government's commitments to a frictionless border.

The Ireland Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which is currently before the Dáil for debate, includes a requirement for businesses to produce bespoke labelling for alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland.

These proposals include mandatory cancer warnings on labels, and a requirement that health warnings take up at least one-third of the label, making the Republic of Ireland the only country in the EU with such a labelling requirement.

But Hospitality Ulster, the industry body for the licensed trade in the north, claims numerous local producers have voiced their fears of what might happen in the post-Brexit era.

Northern Ireland has seen a resurgence of micro-brewers and small craft distillers in recent years, with around 40 now in production, all of which will be directly affected by the legislation, which will place a significant financial burden on their businesses by creating new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.

Any increase in costs or reduction in suppliers will also have a negative impact on pubs, restaurants and hotels in the north as the diversity of locally produced beers and spirits has become an increasingly important part of the offering and overall tourism experience.

Following the recent developments within the Brexit process which affirmed Ireland, the EU and the UK's commitment to protecting north-south cooperation regarding trade as well as maintaining regulatory alignment, Hospitality Ulster has said this planned legislation would make a mockery of those commitments.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “The Republic of Ireland is the key export market for the majority of Northern Ireland's alcohol producers.

"But if the Irish Government introduces this particular element of its planned legislation, it would represent a significant impediment to the growth of those businesses, including a number of craft distillers.

“With the challenges that Brexit has created and the commitment to regulatory alignment in key areas, it is incumbent on all parties to ensure they do not create new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.”

Newtownards-based Echlinville Distillery, which became Northern Ireland's first licensed distillery in over 125 years in 2013 and produces premium gin and whiskey, is one of the many craft distiller the legislation would impact.

Its finance director Jarlath Watson said: “Starting from small beginnings we have developed our business, grown our brand and established a strong reputation in the premium spirit market over the last number of years.

"Exports south of the border have played a major role in that success with our bottling, packaging and labelling systems being streamlined across all our markets and based on the long-standing premise that regulatory requirements within the EU will be aligned.

“The implementation of this planned legislation would require us to deliver a major upheaval to our production systems costing time and money, reducing our margins within a key export market and putting future job creation at risk. In short, it will create an unnecessary barrier to trade at a time of considerable uncertainty.”

The drinks industry currently operates on an integrated all-island basis, with seamless cross border supply chains and cooperation integral to continued competitiveness.

The concerns have been echoed by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), whose director Patricia Callan added: “The trading relationship across Ireland, post-Brexit, needs to be frictionless and tariff free, but if this Bill is passed it would create new risks for producers and distributors.”

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