Ireland has escaped Brexit trade blow, say officials

Ireland has not been as badly hit by Brexit trade disruption as had been initially feared, according to government trade officials in Dublin. [EPA-EFE/AIDAN CRAWLEY]

Ireland has not been as badly hit by Brexit trade disruption as had been initially feared, according to government trade officials in Dublin.

Speaking on Wednesday (9 March) to the Oireachtas Committee on Trade, Enterprise and Employment, Anne Coleman Dunne said that “in large measure, Brexit was not the calamitous event that we all feared, and this can be attributed, in no small measure, to the level of preparedness of Irish businesses for the changed trading relationship with the UK in the aftermath of Brexit.”

Despite fears that Ireland would incur the biggest economic losses of any EU country as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU, and see an economic hit of between 0.8% and 1% of its GDP, its trade volumes have been resilient.

While imports to Ireland from Britain have dropped 13% since 2020, according to the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO), intra–Irish trade increased by 60% in the first year after Britain left the EU’s single market.

The CSO estimated that goods worth almost €4 billion were exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic in 2021, increasing 65% compared to 2020.

Coleman-Dunn, an official at the Department of Enterprise and Trade, warned that “Brexit has changed forever the trade relationship between the UK and Ireland and the full extent of these changes will only become fully evident over time”.

Irish exports to Northern Ireland also increased by 54% to €3.7 billion since the Northern Ireland protocol came into force in January 2021. The protocol, which imposed customs checks on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland but kept the province in the EU’s single market for goods, has given its exporters a competitive advantage over UK traders, who now face border checks on all goods travelling to and from the UK to the EU.

While the EU immediately introduced customs checks on goods arriving from the UK when it left the single market in January 2021, the UK government has delayed introducing its own border controls on EU goods and now intends to introduce them in phases between now and November.

“While for many businesses, Brexit is done, this is not the case for those in the agri-food sector and businesses in this sector need to continue preparing for the UK import controls,” said Coleman Dunn.

There is also, however, continued uncertainty over the fate of the protocol, with no sign that talks between European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič and UK foreign secretary Liz Truss will produce an agreement before the Northern Ireland Assembly goes into the purdah period ahead of May’s assembly elections.

Margaret Hearty, the CEO of InterTradeIreland, told Irish lawmakers that the uncertainty was “having a dampening effect on investment” on both sides of the border in Ireland.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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