Six supermarkets that provide three-quarters of Northern Ireland’s groceries have urged the UK government to take action to keep trade flowing when a Brexit grace period ends in October.
A letter, signed by retailers including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s, to Brexit minister Lord Frost and Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, warned of grave disruption to trade and supply chains without urgent action.
The retailers said unless a solution is found they will face increased cost and complexity when moving goods from Great Britain to NI.
“The challenges this will create in sourcing could force many retailers to move supply chains from GB to the EU,” said the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which is coordinating the letter.
Among the problems likely to be encountered are increased checks at NI ports and additional paperwork.
Retailers will also be required to provide Export Health Certificates on products of animal origin.
In March a delay of around six months was announced for border checks, agreed as part of the Brexit deal, to give businesses more time to prepare.
The letter welcomed the extension to the grace period on the movement of chilled meats, but urged the UK and EU to find a working solution for GB-NI trade.
It invited political leaders to visit distribution centres and see supply chains in action.
“Much more needs to be done before the end of September if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers,” said the letter.
“Without swift, decisive, and cooperative movement on this issue there will be disruption.”
Among the possible solutions suggested are a veterinary agreement, a wider sanitary and phytosanitary agreement, a facilitated movement scheme or a trusted trader scheme.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Already new red tape is causing delays, there are surging additional costs, and we are seeing challenges to just-in-time supply chains.
“Our members made significant investments in the last few months to avoid disruption, yet disruption will become inevitable if the regime that will come into force in October is unrealistic and disproportionately onerous.”
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