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Irish trade with Britain plummets as Brexit impact drives down imports

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There has been a shift in trade to Northern Irish ports such as Larne. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

There has been a shift in trade to Northern Irish ports such as Larne. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

There has been a shift in trade to Northern Irish ports such as Larne. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

ALL-ISLAND trade patterns have shifted dramatically since Brexit , new research has confirmed.

While goods imports into Ireland from the UK as a whole have plummeted by 45pc, imports into Ireland from Northern Ireland have almost doubled (up 90pc) since January 1, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said yesterday.

UK imports as a share of total Irish imports have fallen by almost a third since 2015, the year before the Brexit referendum, from 33pc to 12pc. Exports to the UK – excluding food and drink – have held up better, the ESRI found.

“It has become more expensive and more difficult for Ireland to import from Great Britain,” ESRI research professor Martina Lawless told a Seanad committee.

But trade with Northern Ireland is coming from a low level and is not able to offset the high losses coming from the rest of the UK, though the share of Northern Irish trade in total Irish imports almost trebled since 2015.

“Northern Ireland, as a relatively small economic unit, is not able to replace all of the trade that we were getting in from Great Britain, and some of that has been diverted actually further afield,” Prof Lawless said.

The data confirms recent Dublin Port figures showing trailer and container trade with Great Britain is down 21pc since January, while direct trade with Europe is up 36pc.

EU import controls on food and animal products mean consignments have to be checked by customs officials and vets, although Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly said only three trailers per sailing are being stopped, with more than 90pc clearing customs quickly.

However, he also said the shift in trade to Northern Irish ports is likely to be permanent.

Grace periods on grocery imports from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are likely to be made permanent under an EU-UK compromise being worked out following the protracted ‘sausage wars’ this year.

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Irish exporters are likely to face extra hurdles from January as the UK introduces its full customs code following multiple delays.

Irish food and drinks exports have already been hit, the ESRI data showed, with food exports to Great Britain falling 25pc in the first half of this year, while beverage exports were down 40pc.

“There are still some risks to Irish firms that are reliant on the British market,” Prof Lawless said. “Those checks could increase the cost of trade on them further, so we may not have seen the full impacts on the export side.”

A fish fight between the UK and France still threatens to boil over, with retaliatory measures on hold until Thursday while officials on both sides work out a compromise.

The UK has still not ruled out triggering a clause in the 2019 Brexit deal that would allow it to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol, which essentially keeps businesses north of the Border tied to EU single market rules.

Prof Lawless said that “would very much be a return to the sort of worst-case scenarios” seen before Brexit. “Economically, that would be in absolutely nobody’s interest,” she said.


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