Disruption to the trade of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland (NI) as a result of new rules introduced from 1 January 2021 under the NI Protocol is adding significant indirect cost to NI agri-food businesses, UFU president Victor Chestnutt has claimed.
Joining other UK farming leaders at a NFU Scotland conference on Thursday, Chestnutt said that in some instances these additional costs could amount to well over £1m annually to an individual food business.
Britain is by far the largest market for the NI food and drink sector, accounting for approximately half of all sales.
But while NI can trade unfettered into Britain, the problem is in the other direction, and if freight companies are not doing back haulage, the cost of bringing back empty trailers falls to the company concerned.
“I was in my local meat plant this morning and was shown an email quoting £6,000 for empty trailers coming back from Scotland,” said Chestnutt.
He also referred to the recent letter sent by European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic to UK cabinet minister Michael Gove, where Šefcovic refers to the “necessary adjustments of supply chains” as being part of the solution in future.
“That is one thing I would worry about. I can see supply chains changing already and as supply chains change and more food comes from Europe (through Ireland), that will increase our empty trailers and containers problem,” said the UFU president.
He also highlighted the issues that farmers face moving breeding sheep from Britain to NI and the six-month residency period that would apply if an NI pedigree animal is taken to a show in Britain, or is taken to a sale, but remains unsold.
In addition, Chestnutt pointed to the new requirement that agricultural machinery moving from Britain to NI must be accompanied by a plant health (phytosanitary) certificate to verify that it is free from soil, etc.
“We need the UK and the EU to sit down and sort some of these things out. Solutions could be found if that political will is there,” said Chestnutt.
He also commented on the wider political situation in NI, suggesting that there is growing tension and that when someone orders a parcel online, only to be told that the company cannot deliver to NI, it “really galls people that they are some sort of a second-class UK citizen”.
“If there isn’t moves made soon to sort some of these things out, and diffuse this tension, I just fear what might happen,” he added.