The UK’s exit from the EU has the potential to increase food supply chain costs and cause further disruption to Northern Ireland’s retailers, according to the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee.
The committee held an evidence session yesterday to discuss the impact of Brexit on the UK’s food supply chains and the ongoing disruption to Northern Ireland’s retailers.
Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and Andrew Opie, director of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), were both invited to the meeting and said that there will be both short-term and long-term costs in “re-engineering” supply chains, as well as additional paperwork.
Ian Wright said: “Unless the deal changes in some material way, we’re going to see the re-engineering of almost all the EU-UK and GB-NI supply chains over the next six to nine months.
“In the short term there will be costs and time wasted for supply to reach the shelves, and in the long term will be costs and changes, and fairly significant changes, to the way in which manufacturers in the UK and in the EU interact when they are producing product.”
A spokesperson from the FDF also told the BBC: “Food and drink manufacturers typically operate on tight margins and given the challenges many face because of the closure of the hospitality sector, it will not be possible to simply absorb the added costs that will result from border disruption and new non-tariff barriers.”
The committee also discussed the food shortages across some Northern Ireland retailers, following calls for “urgent intervention” from supermarket bosses in the UK in order to prevent further disruption.
Andrew Opie claimed that Government must prepare for the end of a three-month grace period from Export Health Certificates (EHC) in order to avoid further significant disruption.
“Northern Ireland is a particular problem, there is no doubt about that, and a particular problem for UK supermarkets. If we don’t find a workable solution for retailers in the next couple of months we do face significant disruption in Northern Ireland.”
A Government spokesperson said the grace period is working well, however: “The grace period for supermarkets and their suppliers is working well, goods continue to flow effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we are working intensively with industry as new requirements come in.”
Photograph: Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the FDF.