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Hauliers have warned that customs regulations between Ireland and the UK could “plunge both economies into deep recession”, if the definition of “regulatory alignment” with the EU is anything less than full customs union.
Following a meeting before Christmas, members of a hauliers’ consultative committee said it was “not possible to see” how regulatory alignment would work if the UK and EU were not as part of a customs union.
The hauliers’ concern is shared by the Welsh government, which has noted that trade between Ireland and Britain is worth about €65 billion and about half of all Irish exports travel through the port of Holyhead. The view is also supported by the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce which said many distribution and logistics chains across Wales and the rest of Britain were dependent on Irish goods.
According to a report by economist Jim Power, 47,000 people are employed in the freight transport, distribution and logistics sector in the Republic. He also calculated that €1.2 billion worth of trade in goods and services is carried out each week between Ireland and the UK.
Speaking after the consultative committee meeting , Irish Road Haulage Association president Verona Murphy said there were two issues at stake. One was goods which were carried to and from the UK, while the second was goods destined for Europe which travel through the UK. About 80 per cent of Ireland’s trade with Europe utilises the “landbridge” through the UK.
Ms Murphy said earlier hopes for a “bonded corridor” across Britain for EU-destined goods now looked like a logistical and bureaucratic impossibility.
She said ferry sailings, road conditions, drivers’ hours, load contents and destination all played a part in routes selected by hauliers. Any one of these factors could cause a last-minute selection of a ferry or a route change , while a bonded corridor to allow goods transit through the UK was unlikely to be flexible enough to meet these changes. She said a bonded corridor would also be expensive as bonds would have to be paid to the UK authorities in advance.
Ms Murphy also said hauliers had been warned split loads – when part of a load is delivered to the UK and the remainder delivered to the EU – could be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to organise.
For example, she said, her own firm imports refrigerated turkeys each week from Italy. At Christmas, the lorries also deliver turkeys to the UK market, but she said none of the authorities had been able to explain how that might be done outside of a customs union. “Food in Britain could get very expensive,” she warned.
John McGrane, director general of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, said Wales was “extremely strategically important” in that it contained Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke ports. He said about €30 billion of Irish exports used these ports and travelled through Wales. Mr McGrane said British supermarkets took a lot of Irish farm produce which was timed to be at its peak when it hit supermarket shelves.
He said north Wales and its ports and logistics industry were “in the front line” of any regulatory divergence and any delays could be “intolerable for people trying to make markets in the UK and EU”.
The Welsh government has calculated that more than 70 per cent of Irish cargo passes through Welsh ports including Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke, while Ireland is currently the fourth most important market for Welsh exporters, currently worth about €1 billion a year.
The Welsh government has expressed its desire to continue unfettered trade and Welsh secretary for finance Mark Drakeford is due to make a return visit to Ireland this month. His visit is part of efforts to being together Welsh, Irish, Northern Irish and Scottish voices on the future of trade in these islands.