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Following a Christmas Eve deal, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into provisional application on 1st January 2021.

The agreement, which was approved unanimously by EU Member States and by an overwhelming majority of 521 to 73 in the UK Parliament in the final days of 2020, outlines the terms and conditions for how trade operates between the Republic of Ireland, the EU and Great Britain, as well as areas of addition cooperation, including on transport, fisheries and energy. It is now being applied together with the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, which determines the specific conditions for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the position of Northern Ireland in the EU.

The key provisions of the agreement relevant to the dairy sector include:

  • No tariffs or quota restrictions will be placed on the trade of agri-food products between the EU and UK. This is a very important achievement for the sector, as the agri-food industry in Ireland would have faced up to €1.5bn in tariffs annually.
  • New controls and administration are and will continued to be required for imports and exports, such as export health certificates, certificates of origin, customs declarations, safety and sanitary declarations and pre-notification requirements. These additional requirements will mean new costs for businesses and will bring an additional burden and delays to trade.
  • Tariff free trade is limited however by specific rules of origin, which allow only for goods, which wholly originate from the EU or UK to avail of the benefits and possibilities to import and re-export limited by the same rules.
  • Transport connectivity for air, ferry and road was secured under the agreement and the possibility for the continued use of the UK land-bridge is provided for, however with limitations compared to previous conditions.
  • The agreement commits to maintaining existing labour, social and environmental standards, including for example commitments to reduce climate emissions to net zero by 2050. However, there is no agreement on maintaining product or professional standards, which the UK will be free to alter. The UK could therefore make changes to marketing standards, labelling requirements or hygiene standards, creating new technical barriers to trade in future.

The deal must still be ratified by the European Parliament, in order for it to come into full and lasting effect. Scrutiny on the deal has begun in the Parliament’s International Trade, Fisheries and Agriculture committees and a vote of approval is expected on the 23rd February.

ICOS has welcomed the agreement and the achievement of tariff free trade, however we will continue to raise our concerns with regard to the impact of non-tariff barriers, including the impact of new controls and administration, which will result in significantly increased costs for Irish cooperatives.

We are specifically calling for the immediate introduction of a number of trade facilitation measures which are provided for in the agreement, including:

  • the establishment of a “single window” for the input of documents to simplify procedures and reduce the likelihood of errors
  • the simplification of roll-on, roll-off traffic, which is essential for the continued use of the UK land-bridge
  • The use of provisions providing for electronic certification, which we believe should be immediately applied for export health certificates and certificates of origin
  • To use of provided flexibility to allow for the reduction in the frequency of certain controls

We will continue to raise the difficulties facing dairy products produced on an all-Ireland basis, with the hopes that the unique position of Northern Ireland, being within the EU Single Market for agri-food products can be recognised and facilitated within wider EU policy.

Please read the ICOS briefing note for further details of the trade provisions of the agreement.  Our note can be viewed here

Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive