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A woman walks past empty refrigerated shelves. EFE / Aidan Crawley / Archive
Dublin, Jan 13 (EFE) .- Brexit and the recently released battery of bureaucratic procedures introduced to control goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom is causing shortages in supermarkets in the British province.
Hundreds of products, mostly fruit, vegetables or processed meat, have temporarily disappeared from the shelves of some of the large supermarkets, such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Lidl, which have difficulties adapting to the new regulations introduced since the last January 1, with the final divorce between London and the European Union.
“It is a difficult and complex situation, but, obviously, it is the result of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, by which the region, even though it is part of the United Kingdom, remains aligned with the rules of the single community market,” he explains to Efe. Glyn Roberts, Director of the Retail Northern Ireland association, which represents 1,800 independent merchants and wholesalers.
That protocol, included in the Exit Agreement agreed by London and Brussels in 2019, is designed to avoid a hard border between the two Irlanders after Brexit, key to their peace process and the economy of the entire island.
In this way, Northern Ireland remains subject to the customs rules of the internal market, which obliges the authorities to carry out the corresponding controls of goods from Great Britain (Scotland, Wales and England) at the main points of entry into the region such as the ports of Belfast or Larne.
That translates into a “mountain of new paperwork and paperwork” that is causing “delays in the supply chain, shortages of certain products and considerable problems for shippers and logistics companies,” laments Roberts.
“It is undoubtedly one of the consequences of a hard Brexit, a scenario that we wanted to avoid at all costs,” he says, referring to the agreement that regulates the new commercial relationship agreed between London and Brussels last Christmas Eve, which avoided a wild divorce but it placed great bureaucratic obstacles to exchanges.
It is not the “promised land” that “the ‘Brexiters’ sold us” during the 2016 referendum campaign, in which Retail NI first rejected the exit in the community bloc and later, during negotiations, advocated for a “soft divorce “with the permanence of the United Kingdom in the single market.
Roberts indicates that interferences in the supply chain are affecting, above all, large supermarkets, which normally offer some 40,000 products, although “around 200 products are not available now”, such as cheeses or “peppers Spanish people”.
This is the case, for example, of Marks and Spencer, which for each product that it transports to Northern Ireland, about 6,500, needs an “individual customs declaration”, a bureaucratic procedure that “takes place in Belfast,” a spokesperson told Efe. of this British supermarket chain.
DELAYS IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
“To ensure that our shipments reach the region, we have reduced the supply by a few hundred products, around 5% of the total, so that we can ensure that the rest arrive on time,” explains the source, who trusts that this situation will be “temporary, until we adapt to the new rules.”
The Tesco chain has also acknowledged in a statement that “there are small delays with certain products”, although “they work with suppliers” to “replace them on the shelves as soon as possible.”
Other supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, are acquiring rival brand food, an unusual practice, experts say, which is nonetheless bailing them out for the moment, as supermarkets, like Spar, stocked up in the previous months to cushion the impact of Brexit.
Roberts is moderately optimistic and believes that businesses will eventually adapt to the new bureaucracy, although he asks the UK and EU authorities “to be more flexible” regarding its requirements.
In this sense, the “Financial Times” newspaper reported this Wednesday that the main supermarkets have sent a letter to the London Executive to warn that the “food supply” will be “considerably affected” in Northern Ireland due to the new “border regulations”, which they qualify as “unviable”.
They argue that the shortage of products “will get worse” when the “grace period” granted by London and Brussels ends on March 31, during which some of the most cumbersome paperwork has been eliminated.
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