Prepare now for tougher British border rules or face costs, Irish firms warned

New rules on food and animal imports that have been delayed five times are now due to take effect in January

Border controls on food and animal imports from Ireland to Britain delayed five times up to now will happen in late January, Irish firms have been warned. The British changes will create a paperwork burden for firms, especially those dealing with perishable foods, a seminar hosted by the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce (BICC) was told.

“You simply just can’t sit back and say, ‘I hope it’ll be okay’, because ultimately this is going to happen. So even if by any chance it is delayed in January, it is going to happen,” said BDO partner Carol Lynch.

The United Kingdom left the European Union’s single market in January 2021, but it has repeatedly delayed implementing full border controls for fear of disrupting trade and fuelling inflation. The last postponement came in last August, but from January 31st, plant and animal products will be graded according to risk, with health certificates required for considerable parts of the trade.

Irish food and drink exports to Britain have increased significantly in recent years, but some of the success is down to the fact that such trade has so far faced few of the consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU. The BICC is pushing for a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement between the UK and the EU, which would eliminate up to 80 per cent of the border paperwork and checks.


However, it is now feared that such an agreement, even if it were to happen, has little chance of occurring within the next three years, and may not happen depending on political pressures. Such an agreement would limit the freedom of the UK in its other attempts to strike trade deals, as shown by Switzerland, which has accepted nearly free entry into EU markets in return for limits on its ability to strike trade deals.

Meanwhile, Ireland may be a rare voice at EU level in search of an SPS agreement, since there is far less demand from continental food producers for such a deal. Former BICC chair, Maree Gallagher of Covington said many such forms are now more reluctant to trade with the UK since there is “too much hassle”, so an SPS deal “is not a priority”.

Alexander Kinnear of the Ulster Farmers’ Union said every food producer in Northern Ireland wants to see a UK/EU SPS deal, though he believed that some British businesses will now face “a taste of their own medicine” after January 31st.

Farmers in Northern Ireland do want changes to the Windsor Framework, he said, especially over concerns about the importation of veterinary medicines and live animal exports curbs that have “decimated” the pedigree cattle market. However, he said, “the very thing that keeps us awake at night” is the fear that the EU and the UK’s regulations will diverge gradually over time. Firms must have enough staff to handle the paperwork required, including health certificates, and ensure that they do not depend on just one person to do the job, the seminar was told.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times