As widely reported in recent weeks, new trading arrangements that came into play from 1 January 2021 have brought disruption for the movement of goods from Britain to NI and to the EU.

That is the consequence of the decision made by the UK government to exit both the EU single market and the customs union. It was a political choice, and even though a last minute trade deal meant no tariffs and quotas, so-called non-tariff barriers were inevitable.

Over time, businesses will adapt and trade will move more swiftly, but there are still significant hurdles to overcome.

For trade in retail goods from Britain to NI, a grace period (meaning individual consignments don’t require export health certificates) runs out on 1 April. And from 1 July “prohibited and restricted goods” such as sausages and chilled mince cannot go to NI.


Politicians in NI are right to raise concerns, and lobby bodies right to seek solutions, as the EU rulebook was set up for trade in single commodity products across borders, not retail goods.

For trade between Britain and the EU, while the EU has implemented various controls from 1 January, that is not the case for goods in the opposite direction.

From 1 April the UK will require pre-notification and health documents for plant products, and products of animal origin. And from 1 July customs declarations will be required.

So while businesses in Britain are experiencing difficulties with trade right now, it might be the summer before the reality hits in the EU. Perhaps then it might force both sides to look again at the entire suite of rules.

A mechanism to do that is via a Partnership Council, under which sits various committees. But the reality is that this again comes down to a choice for the UK government. It can ease trade friction (with NI and the EU) by agreeing to align with EU rules. Or it can continue with the delusion that there are great trade opportunities to be had elsewhere.

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