While much focus in the post-Brexit world is rightly being pointed at the breakdown in relations between the EU and the UK in relation to the Northern Irish protocol, it should be noted that the grace periods for Northern Ireland are not the only ones due to end soon.
Irish businesses who trade with the UK must come to terms with new checks on Ireland-UK trade, excluding Northern Ireland, come April 1 — less than three months into the realities of Brexit, and after coming to terms with customs checks, export declarations and new sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements.
From April 1, Irish businesses that export any product of animal origin, be it meat, fish, dairy or a composite product, as well as plant products, to mainland UK must deal with an additional round of import controls due to Brexit.
Changes will include the need to pre-notify British authorities of the shipment of the goods, businesses must hold the appropriate health certificate from the Irish authorities and these certificates must travel with the goods. The type of health certificate needed differs depending on the category of goods and so more than one certificate may be required per shipment.
In preparation for these changes, it is vital that staff involved in every step of the supply chain, as well as UK importers, are well-versed on the new changes and the role they will play in ensuring that all requirements are met.
The burden of additional checks and requirements is far from ideal for businesses who may have just come to terms with the changes introduced in January, but supports are available to ease the transition to the new requirements.
More than 1,300 new staff have been hired through the €9,000 Ready for Customs Grant which supports businesses in hiring or re-deploying staff to cover their customs needs. This grant will close applications on March 31, and so it is important that businesses act to avail of this fund if they qualify and need additional customs staff.
The Brexit Loan Scheme also provides support through funding of up to €1.5 million to eligible businesses to help adapt to the new trading environment. There are also several webinars being run by both the Irish and UK governments on the new changes taking place from April, as well as training available through Bord Bia and Skillnet Ireland.
The days of seamless trade with the UK are in the past, yet disruption to business can be minimised with thorough preparation for these changes.
Freight vehicle movements from Ireland to Britain have increased from 1,423 in the first week of 2021 to 7,263 at the end of February. While this is a positive trend, growth of these figures appears to be flattening. To prevent any further disruption to businesses, these preparations must be made in advance of April 1. Revenue’s Customs Helpline is running 24/7 for businesses; it answered a total of 13,650 queries in the first two months of 2021
Between additional Covid-19 restrictions which few could have predicted would last so far into 2021, and the burden of Brexit checks, businesses have had a very difficult start to the year. But if Irish businesses have shown anything over the past 12 months, it is that they are hugely adaptable. While further changes to the trading environment may seem daunting, supports are available for businesses should they run into difficulties.
I would strongly encourage all businesses owners to thoroughly vet their supply chains before April and ensure the new requirements are in place so that disruptions will be kept to a minimum.