Thursday 27 October 2016

Customs and businesses don't want a hard border

Published 25/08/2016 | 02:30

A disused customs post on the border between Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland and Newry in the North
A disused customs post on the border between Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland and Newry in the North

Possible increased costs for Irish businesses, the desire for a "practically invisible border" with Northern Ireland, and the potential need to protect Irish industry from UK goods and services.

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These are the vexed issues discussed at a specially convened meeting of Irish customs and business representatives in the wake of June's Brexit vote.

Revenue's Customs Consultative Committee gathered just days after the poll for preliminary discussions on the myriad issues faced by Ireland's exporting sector as a result of the referendum, according to a report prepared after the meeting.

The Committee is made up of top officials from Revenue, as well as representatives from a range of business groups, including the Irish Exporters Association, Chambers of Commerce, Ibec and freight groups.

Revenue officials warned that Irish businesses using the UK to ship goods to mainland Europe, or flying through UK airports, could see their costs jump in the wake of a British EU withdrawal.

They also said Irish industry and agriculture might need to be protected from UK goods and services in the event that there are differing tariff regimes between the UK and the rest of the European Union, signalling the possibility that Irish products could be disadvantaged.

"We must remember that, while open borders are very attractive, it is possible to envisage a situation where we would need to protect Irish agriculture or industry from UK goods or services because of differences between the EU external tariff and that of the UK," the report of the meeting states.

"The position adopted by the UK will also colour the answer to the question. Overall, it is a very complex matter."

A spokeswoman for Revenue couldn't say what those protections might entail at this stage, stressing it was much too early to say whether they would ultimately be required.

Officials also discussed whether ferries would in the future be regarded as transporters of goods.

"It is questionable whether the ferries could provide detailed information on goods carried by vehicles on board," the report of the meeting states.

"One possible solution would be to require the vehicle identification marks (number plate) only."

And number plate recognition is one method being looked at by Revenue as it strives to create a "practically invisible border" with Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

It said there would still need to be "customs facilitation points" to allow for examinations and spot checks of vehicles, but that shipments that are "green routed", that don't require an inspection, "should be able to cross the border without hindrance".

"We do not want an extensive network of customs stations on the land border," the note of the meeting states.

"General trade facilitation matters could be handled at existing Revenue offices. A combination of electronic clearance systems and possible innovative systems, such as number plate recognition, would be explored with the objective of achieving the desired free flow of traffic."

John McGrane, p7

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