Can we avoid indigestion from Boris' oven-ready Brexit?

Important trade routes through ports like Belfast will be subject to burdens and complexities which will add costs and could also restrict the availability components our manufacturers rely on
Stephen Kelly

JUST like the turkey I've enjoyed with the family over the last week, the new UK government has an “oven ready” plan to get Brexit done. This plan does bring some certainty, offers us some protections but also new risks for firms and families in the north.

Boris Johnson's plan is to remove the UK from the EU in little over four weeks' time and begin to negotiate a new free trade relationship.

Concurrently, a to be established joint committee and working groups to try to put some meat on the bones of our promised “unfettered access” and to work on minimising controls between the north and GB. Unlike Theresa May's, Boris' deal creates new upfront arrangements for our economy.

When the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes next month, the UK essentially establishes a new border with Ireland, north and south. Important trade routes through ports in Larne, Belfast, Warrenpoint and indeed Dublin will be subject to burdens and complexities which will add costs and diminish competitiveness but could also restrict the availability of what is on retail shelves and important ingredients and components which our manufacturers rely on.

Approximately 70 per cent, of what we manufacture is ‘intermediate goods', things which go to other manufacturers to make final products. We too rely on stuff from both the EU and coming across the Irish Sea to supply our businesses. These new Irish Sea costs and frictions could see us cut from supply chains as we become just too difficult to trade with.

It is the reason the local business community turned down a deal in October 2018 which Boris Johnson essentially rolled over and accepted in October 2019.

So, whilst “Getting Brexit Done” brings some certainty to Britain, the uncertainty continues for companies and consumers here at home.

But, what can and should we do?

Whilst Boris proceeds at breakneck speed, the first thing for our new local MPs must do is table amendments, by the afternoon of January 2, to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to secure derogations, mitigations, compensation and indeed representation on the new structures defining what ‘unfettered access' and designing any controls destined for the Irish Sea.

Secondly, as our trading routes change, then we have to look at benefitting from ‘import substitution'. If GB suppliers find it more difficult, what can manufacturers, retailers and other buy from businesses here on their doorstep. Buyers should be exploring and working with more local businesses to ensure quality, continuity and economic advantage.

Finally, we must fully capitalise on the opportunity of the all-island economy through cooperation, coordination and orientating the NI economy to reach its potential based on our geographic, economic and new trading reality.

Donegal shoppers are today buying their wares in Derry, and Strabane motorists get their petrol in Lifford. It's a naturally occurring process. So, maximising the benefits of our now unique access to the EUs Single Market and Customs Union, whilst minimising the new frictions and working to define ‘unfettered access', is just common sense.

Trade flows like water, it will travel along a route of least resistance. Going in to 2020, we need to remove or avoid creating new barriers and watch and capitalise on the new routes our trade begins to take.

Do that and we can avoid any indigestion from Boris' oven-ready Brexit.

:: Stephen Kelly is chief executive of Manufacturing NI

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