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Northern Ireland - EU flags

The EU has extended the current ‘grace period’ for moving veterinary medicines between Britain and Northern Ireland for a further three years.

European Commission (EC) vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the deal, which was due to expire on 31 December this year, will now continue until the end of 2025.

He said the EC had “taken steps to ensure the continuity of supplies of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, but also Cyprus, Ireland and Malta”.

A group of MPs had warned about a risk of shortages in veterinary drugs, including vaccines and anaesthetics for operations when the current arrangements come to an end, reports the BBC.

Medicine shortage

Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland continues to be bound by EU rules on veterinary medicines, but not the rest of the UK.

Implementing the terms of the Protocol would have blocked 51% of veterinary medicines from the start of January, reports the Newsletter.

‘Smooth flow’ of trade

Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, welcomed the news:

“I am very pleased to see that the EC has taken the steps needed to ensure the continuity of supplies of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Ireland and Malta by extending the current arrangements to December 2025.

“This three-year extension will not only ensure the flow of these essential medicines continues smoothly, but also gives the time and space needed on all sides to find long-term, sustainable and efficient solutions to the Northern Ireland Protocol and any related issues that have an impact on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

The extension will be the final time the EC eases the rules for the medicines and the key issue remains the same, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president David Brown told Farming UK.

‘Not a solution’

While the extension is a relief to agriculture in Northern Ireland, he added: “However, it is important to stress this is a temporary fix not a solution.”

At the end of the latest extension, all veterinary products used in the EU, including NI, must be licensed in the EU.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We welcome the extension to the grace period on veterinary medicines. While a durable arrangement is still needed, this provides greater certainty to the veterinary industry and citizens in Northern Ireland.”

Kennedy appointment

Meanwhile, the US has appointed the grandson of former US senator Robert Kennedy as its envoy to Northern Ireland, reports the Telegraph.

Joe Kennedy III, a former Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, will oversee Washington’s focus on “advancing economic development and investment opportunities” in NI, the US State Department said.

Kennedy left his seat in 2020 to challenge incumbent Democratic senator Ed Markey, but lost in the party’s primary.

“His role builds on the longstanding US commitment to supporting peace, prosperity, and stability in Northern Ireland and the peace dividends of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” the State Department added.

However, both Unionists and members of the Conservative party’s European Research Group have expressed concern over the envoy’s pro-Dublin leanings.

Political overtones

According to the Guardian, the Kennedys’ Irish-American family’s lineage gives the appointment strong political overtones despite its apparent economic focus.

It comes at a time of elevated tensions between Washington and London over the implementation of the Protocol.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak hopes to reach a deal with the EU over the implementation of the protocol ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement next year, when president Biden is due to visit.