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Brexit Day

"The concern would be the potential for additional bureaucracy to facilitate the trade"

The United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union tonight at midnight (European time) but little will actually change as the transition period will extend to the end of the year.

What Brexit will actually mean for companies in the UK, exporters and importers alike is still unknown as Prime Minister Boris Johnston has not actually said what it will entail. Just a promise of freedom from Europe.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK's choices make frictionless trade "impossible".

There are also signs that Brexit may lead to the break-up of the UK, England and Wales voted to leave the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay and all three devolved governments voted against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the Scottish Parliament voted earlier this week to hold an Independence referendum before the end of the year. Irish Nationalists are also pushing for a united Ireland.

Continuity Agreements
"For the next few months it will be business as usual in its broadest sense," says Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium. "However there are a number of discussions going on at the moment in terms of what the future relationships will be but none of us knows what the answer to that will be. The UK Government has negotiated a number of continuity agreements, so if Europe had an agreement with for example Egypt, they would look to try and replicate the UK's proportion of that agreement but that is difficult on occasions especially when there are quota issues on certain commodities.

"We are working with the industry and the UK Government at the moment to clarify what the actual trade is from a number of commodities rather that what the UK trade quota volume is because often goods are imported via other European countries. These have always been destined for the UK but don't always appear on the UK trade activity because they have been cleared through customs in another member state which will have an impact on the quota volume allocations as we move on."

As to how the Pound will fair, Nigel says we have to wait and see how the stock markets respond on Monday morning.

"There has already been a devaluation on Sterling which put a lot of pressure on the industry and considerable pressures on prices for consumers."

There should be no fears of food shortages as the UK will leave with a deal as such and have the transition period, but according to Nigel the focus will be on the end of the year and what happens next with Europe and some form of agreement or not as the case may be. It would appear that it is not going to be the free and frictionless trade which many people would have wanted so we can only hope for some kind of free trade agreement to keep additional administration cost down."

"While I acknowledge Johnston's spirit in looking to achieve the end of the process by the end of the year, I would say it's a tall order as there are an awful lot of things to discuss and reach agreement on, especially when I don't believe the EU Parliament is in a position to begin to consider things until March which leave only a few months to negotiate and finalise a very complex trading arrangement and from an industry point of view we don't want to be told something at the last minute, we need to know it well in advance so we can prepare and manage our businesses."

Increased Bureaucracy
Nigel goes on to say that the industry is desperately trying to absorb and understand the substantial changes that were brought in in mid December with regards to plant health requirements for fresh produce, flowers and pot plants, "To say things will remain the same as usual is not exactly true because this is a huge amount of additional responsibility, resources and costs that the industry is now coming to terms with. The new regulations have been in place for nearly six weeks but many aspects still remain unclear. This is not down to Brexit but new European regulations and which we have apply like many others. The lateness of this information and the potential impact had been ignored by a number of people."

Nigel said that we have to finalise the agreement and then as an industry look at the subsequent proposals and find every opportunity to secure success. "The concern would be the potential for additional bureaucracy to facilitate the trade which we have enjoyed in a very simple seamless way historically for many years. Increased bureaucracy may have a detrimental effect on smaller business which traded seamlessly for many years."

Transport Industry
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has said, that the haulage industry will need government support to help with Brexit. Seamus Lehany, FTA policy manager, said financial aid will be needed.

"As an industry, we are going to have to provide the expertise, the paperwork to facilitate trade so we are going to need... funding for training."

Mr Lehany told BBC News NI that it is "a quick turnaround time if we are going to have to do this".

Mr Barnier said new checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain are an "indispensable" consequence of the Brexit deal.

But last week the prime minister suggested GB-NI trade would remain "unfettered".


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