An EU-UK veterinary agreement would ease difficulties in moving food and agriculture products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, industry experts claim.
The suggestion comes as the UK government continues to grapple with the diplomatic fall-out from the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
Currently, agri-food goods face additional certification and customs checks when crossing an international border into the UK, causing delays, spoilages and additional costs – particularly for British exports to the EU.
Checks have been continually postponed for several agrifood products entering Britain from the EU, but border controls are in place for the highest risk categories of live animals and animal by-products not for human consumption, as well as in-land checks for high-priority plants and plant products.
New rules have also been introduced for agrifood goods under the terms of the Protocol and checks are applied to some goods crossing the Irish Sea, though several easements have been put in place to prevent further trade friction.
National Beef Association CEO Neil Shand told the Grocer a veterinary agreement would “solve a lot of the issues around movement of live animals from GB to NI”.
British seafood, dairy and meat exporters to Europe have made similar calls in recent months.
Tory MP Neil Hudson said last week he was “pushing for a veterinary and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement between the UK and EU that would facilitate the trade of plant and animal products between GB and Northern Ireland and more widely between the UK and the EU”.
The government has proposed legislation to allow it to override the Protocol, which was passed by the Commons this week.
However, the EU has threatened legal action over what it sees as the UK reneging on an international deal.
The UK has suggested a solution that involves possible ‘green’ and ‘red’ channels for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and destined for either the local or EU markets respectively.
Deal not trade war
British Frozen Food Federation CEO Richard Harrow said that while there were “very real issues with the Protocol”, it was preferable to a trade war, and called for the two sides “to resolve on a negotiated basis”.
The Irish Farmers Journal also called for a veterinary deal, writing that the smoothest solution to Northern Ireland being part of the UK and the EU single market is “for the entire UK agreeing to at least an associate type participation in a veterinary agreement with the rest of the EU”.
As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, trade friction around movements of foodstuffs into Northern Ireland has long been a contentious issue.
The UK has in the past rejected EU proposal to align with its veterinary standards and has instead backed a risk-based approach to health checks.