EU weighs retaliatory options if UK suspends NI Protocol rules again in possible 'sausage trade war'

Tue 8 Jun 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

bbq sausage

After weeks of reports in the national media about rising tensions between London and Brussels, UK and EU officials will sit down tomorrow (9 June) to address issues that have emerged in their post-Brexit trading relationship – including the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The talks come shortly after Lord Frost, the UK minister for EU relations, tested the EU’s already ‘thin’ patience by accusing it of obstructive “legal purism”.

Confrontational

The EU has since warned the UK against carrying on along “the more confrontational path that it seems to have chosen”, according to the FT.

The bloc has already launched legal action against the UK after it unilaterally suspended some Protocol rules for agrifood products and parcel movements entering Northern Ireland.

Sticking points

The Protocol, which has been in place since the beginning of the year, has been blamed for trade friction between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, resulting in shortages of goods and medicines as well as transport delays.

An EU requirement for Export Health Certificates for products of animal origin entering the region has also been contested, with the UK having unilaterally suspended the need for supermarkets and their suppliers to complete them earlier this year.

Standards debate

The UK has so far rejected proposals for it to align with EU food standards as a way of removing the requirement for certification to be completed. The UK fears that aligning to EU rules could endanger its ability to strike its own free trade deals with non-EU markets.

The UK has instead pursued a ‘risk-assessment’ based approach to removing the need for firms to complete health certificates.

Sausage war

According to the Telegraph, the government is now considering (as a last resort) another unilateral extension for the date at which health certification will be required for chilled meats, including sausages and mince.

EU officials have said that they may be forced to introduce quotas and tariffs in retaliation against any such move, leading to suggestions that the UK and EU could become embroiled in a ‘sausage trade war’.

These products would otherwise require health certification from 30 June, reports the Belfast Telegraph.

Possible sanctions

According to Politico, the EU is “weighing its retaliatory options” against the UK should Wednesday’s talks between Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic fail to yield any agreement or détente in the rising tensions.

Its options could include financial penalties and even tariffs against UK exports. These would take some time to play out, according to Politico, and the EU may pursue quicker penalties such as restricting market access for the the UK’s finance and technology sectors.