The fresh produce trade is very slow in Dublin this week according to Justin Leonard from Jackie Leonard & Sons. “Trade is poor, the weather is very cold and everyone is getting over the Christmas period, it must be the January blues. People don’t seem to be on a health push, eating salads and the likes, but with the cold weather you would at least expect sales of potatoes and carrots to be strong but that’s not happening either. Its not just here in Dublin, the whole country seems to be quiet.”
Brexit of course is on everyone’s minds and for Irish importers the situation is very complicated, and a no deal will cause huge problems for the fruit and vegetable importers. 90% of fruit and vegetables which enter Ireland come through the UK from Europe and then across to Ireland.
“They are running out of time very quickly; the British Parliament can’t even agree to disagree. At least if they could disagree, they could sit down and say these are the problems lets fix them, but they can’t even agree what their problems are.
“If it is a hard Brexit things will just come to a standstill, how can you stop and check each of the 500 trucks coming into Dublin every day? There is no space in Dublin port to park 500 trucks. Ireland maybe in the EU but everything comes via the UK land bridge and is shipped from Holyhead to Dublin. If they did say, 'lets ship from France to Ireland', its around a 42 hour ferry journey to Rosslare or even Dublin.”
The other side of the coin is that Ireland exports a lot of beef, lamb and dairy to the UK and Europe using the reverse route, if tariffs are imposed the Irish producers won’t be able to compete with the likes of New Zealand and Argentina and won’t send the trucks with meat and dairy anymore, the roll on effect of that is there will be no trucks to bring the fruit and veg back into the country. This will mean a logistical headache and increased costs for importers.
“I think people have forgotten how it was before the European union was formed when we had customs clearance and phytosanitary certification and port clearances. People just take it for granted, now we just pick up the phone, make an order and 24 hours later you have the goods.”
Irish importers are looking at the possibility where goods will arrive in the UK, be delayed at the port for clearance, driven across the country, shipped to Ireland and then face yet another port clearance in Dublin.
“Due the advances in cooling in transport goods can last a good while in transit, but it’s the difference in having product on the market within 24 hours or 48 hours or longer.”
A no deal Brexit also threatens to break the Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of violence in Ireland, one of the main aspects of this was never to have a hard border between the North and South again. No deal would re-establish that border which could lead to unrest. It would also create yet and other customs stop for produce going to Northern Ireland, adding yet more time to the journey.
“We want an agreement between the UK and Europe, no one wants to go back to the old days, but time is running out. If the UK leaves without a deal, then there is no choice but to put back the border, that’s how it goes. As a business we will have to put up with the delays. It will mean we have to forecast better, instead of taking a little of each product every day, we will have to take more every second or third day. The biggest problem with that is that in this business the market changes with the weather, if its cold we sell carrot and onions, if its warm we sell lettuce and tomatoes and you stock accordingly. But you can’t stock up on perishables like lettuce and cucumbers.”
Justin goes on to say that its not just the Irish importers who will feel it, the European exporters and UK importers will have the same problems. “In the end it will be the consumer who will have to pay more and not be able to get the products they are used to having.”