Loss of access to EU single market ‘last thing’ NI food producers need, says Deli Lites chief

    Food producers will face cost implications and will have to review their exporting strategies if NI’s access to the single market ends, a Newry businessman has said.

    ood business Deli Lites chief executive Brian Reid said there has been no doubt that having access to both the GB and EU markets has been advantageous for many food and drink producers here, including his own business.

    He made the comments after EU vice president Maroš Šefčovič told the Belfast Telegraph the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) removal from the NI Protocol changes would result in the loss of NI businesses’ access to the single market.

    Mr Šefčovič said the ECJ’s only remit is to rule on the European law and the rules of the single market, adding: “What I can tell you with 100% certainty is that I cannot imagine that there will be access for Northern Ireland to the single market without respecting the fact that the European Court of Justice is the ultimate arbiter on adopting the rulings on how the EU law and single market rules are applied.”

    Mr Reid said that possibility would add complexities and make exporting to the EU a more costly affair and hinder growth for the many producers here who have had a business boost from the protocol.

    “At the minute we have the advantage of access to both markets and that is a fantastic opportunity. So, for that to be removed, it would put us at a great disadvantage,” he said.

    Mr Reid said Deli Lites has won contracts in recent months “without a doubt” because of access to both markets.

    It won a contract last year to supply sandwiches to Boots stores across Northern Ireland, replacing the pharmacy-led retailer’s previous GB suppliers.

    It also created 45 new jobs at its Milltown Industrial Estate factory in Warrenpoint last year as part of a £4.3m investment to support growth in global markets, including the EU.

    “The NI Protocol has helped us win business we wouldn’t have otherwise, because of those advantages. We’ve also been getting a lot more enquiries and business that we wouldn’t be getting if we didn’t have that access.

    “Without access, it will certainly make things more difficult for us and other food and drink producers. It will add complexities that are not there currently, and companies will be forced to rethink their exporting strategies,” he said.

    “There would also be cost implications for food stuffs, because any barriers to trade incur costs. Delays, red tape and paperwork all add up and in the current environment — we’re heading into a world recession, coming out of Covid and dealing with inflation from the war in Ukraine — this is the last thing we need.”

    Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said recent stats showing NI manufacturing output in Q1 2022 was 3.9% above pre-pandemic levels compared to 0.2% in the UK overall made it clear that the NI Protocol was “a factor here”. He said it was “noticeable in food and drink manufacturing”, especially with NI output 11.7% more than it was since Q4 2019.

    The Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, a collaboration of 14 industry bodies, said: “It is important to acknowledge that despite the challenges since the protocol and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement entered into force, our exports have grown considerably and standstill arrangements have helped simplify the movement of consumer goods to Northern Ireland.”

    Commenting on the UK Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, it added: “Unilateral action is not at our request, and in these times, the parties have a responsibility to reach an agreement with a sense of urgency. We need to see the UK and EU engage in substantive talks on resolving issues raised by stakeholders in Northern Ireland.”

    Mr Reid added: “I would hope that the negotiations will continue and both parties involved in the NI Protocol will reach an agreement that can help all sides of the community, including the business community. Calm heads can reach an agreement, so let us do business in a stable, forward-thinking environment.”

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