Northern Ireland news

Protocol has been “vital” for continuity of trade – NIFDA

The head of NIFDA said the protocol has been vital in ensuring continuity of trade in goods post-Brexit.

THE north's biggest food and drink trade body has given its backing to the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying it has proved “vital” in ensuring the continuity of trade post-Brexit.

Speaking as the UK Government prepares to introduce new legislation to unilaterally override parts of the international treaty, Michael Bell, who is executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA), said the protocol had resolved most of the major challenges posed by Brexit.

He also said it has offered new opportunities.

NIFDA styles itself as the body promoting ‘one voice' for the north's food and drink industry.

Mr Bell said since the outcome of the EU referendum, the trade body has lobbied for frictionless movement of goods “on and between these islands”.

He said: “Our supply chains are highly integrated both north-south and east-west, and we have consistently warned that new barriers to trade in either direction could be highly disruptive.

“NIFDA supports the Northern Ireland Protocol as it has been vital to ensuring continuity of trade in goods across the island of Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

“Crucially, it helped us avoid a catastrophic ‘no deal' Brexit and secured Northern Ireland's ability to freely export to both the EU and the rest of the UK.”

The food industry chief said the current arrangements are working for a majority of NIFDA members.

“For a minority, there have been issues,” he said. “Some of these have been addressed to an extent by the various ‘grace periods', and NIFDA has been working with government to highlight areas where

improvements can be made and processes streamlined.”

Commenting on the ongoing political fallout over the protocol, he said: “While politicians may debate constitutional implications of Brexit deals, we are concerned with the livelihoods of 113,000 people who are dependent on the prosperity of Northern Ireland food and drink.

“Simply scrapping the protocol would only set us back. We must not forget that Brexit itself presented Northern Ireland food and drink companies with many major challenges, most of which have been resolved by the Protocol whilst offering new opportunities.”

Mr Bell's comments come just days after the head of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland told RTÉ: “Quite simply the protocol is working,”

Dr Mike Johnston said: "We have made this point numerous times and very clearly to both the UK government and the EU.

"It is allowing our trade flows to continue. Is it perfect? No. Are there things that could be improved? Yes.”

Michael Bell said: “As our colleagues in Dairy Council NI and elsewhere have said, one size doesn't fit all, and we need solutions agreed between the government and the EU that deliver on the four key industry tests of affordability, certainty, simplicity and stability.”

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