Supermarket bosses representing over 75% of the Northern Irish (NI) grocery market, have called for urgent action to avoid GB-NI supply disruption.

Their letter to Brexit Minister Lord Frost and vice president of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations Maros Sefcovic choice and affordability are at risk in Northern Ireland when the grace period ends.

The letter calls for an industry consultation to find a workable solution for GB-NI trade.

‘Much more needs to be done’

The Grace Period facilitates the movement of chilled meats from GB to NI. However, it is set to end in October after an extension was agreed with the EU last month.

From October, unless a solution is found, retailers warn they will face increased cost and complexity when moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“This is a result of increased checks at Northern Ireland ports, additional paperwork requirements, and the need for Export Health Certificates on products of animal origin,” a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium said.

“The challenges this will create in sourcing could force many retailers to move supply chains from GB to the EU.”

While some actions have been agreed by both sides, such as a recent agreement on the extension to the grace period on the movement of chilled meats, the letter states: “Much more needs to be done before the end of September if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers.”

It urges the UK and EU governments to enter discussions with British retailers, visit their supply chains and distribution centres, and host joint talks between government technical officials and retail supply chain experts to find a working solution for GB-NI trade.

It warns that “without swift, decisive, and cooperative movement on this issue there will be disruption”, which could put the choice and affordability of groceries in Northern Ireland at risk.

Possible solutions to avoid supply disruption

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and its members have long campaigned for frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The organisation says possible solutions include a veterinary agreement, a wider Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, a facilitated movement scheme or a Trusted Trader scheme. Retailers are not only urging the EU and UK Government to agree these measures, which will reduce friction and keep costs down for NI families, but also to provide the time needed to implement such schemes.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The end to the NI grace period looms in the mind of every British retailer with supply chains in Northern Ireland.

“If no action is taken, then it will be the people the Northern Ireland, with half of the discretionary income of GB households, who bear the brunt of this stalemate – meaning less choice and higher costs for essential food purchases.

“Already, new red tape is causing delays, there are surging additional costs, and we are seeing challenges to ‘just-in-time’ supply chains.

“…Our members made significant investments in the last few months to avoid disruption, yet disruption will become inevitable if the regime that will come into force in October is unrealistic and disproportionately onerous.”