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Brexit Weekly Digest - 21 May

This week we look at the UK’s roadmap for Irish Sea food checks, and how Northern Ireland supermarkets could face empty shelves in October. Plus, the debate between farmers and ministers over an Australian trade deal.

UK proposes new Irish Sea food checks from October

The UK is proposing to phase in new Irish Sea border checks on food products in four stages from October (BBC News). The UK’s ‘roadmap’, which has been shared with the EU, details the “four phases” to roll out official certification of food products. The proposed phases are:

Phase one: October 2021 – Fresh meat products.

Phase two: January 2022 – Dairy products, plants, and wine.

Phase three and four: No date given – Fruit and vegetable marketing standards, pet food, organics, and composite products.

The EU are yet to respond to the proposal, and it is unclear whether they would consider these timelines to be reasonable. However, before the new roadmap’s release, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster had called for “action in relation to the protocol” from the UK government.


Supermarkets face problems after NI Protocol grace period

There are concerns that Northern Ireland supermarkets will be unable to stock their shelves if the UK and EU cannot agree on measures to replace the current Protocol grace periods (BBC News).

Grace periods, which allow for food and parcels from Great Britain to enter Northern Ireland with reduced border controls, were set to end on 1 January when the Brexit transition period ended, but were extended until 1 April to give businesses more time to prepare. A further extension has been made until 1 October.

Aodhán Connolly from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said, “There is a real concern that time is ticking away and we are facing some real, severe problems come October.”


Farmers warn post-Brexit trade deal with Australia could hit UK agriculture

Party leaders and farmers are disputing a UK-Australia trade deal, over fears that cheaply-produced Australian beef, lamb and sugar will damage agriculture in the UK (The Guardian). Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in favour of the trade deal, saying that an agreement with Australia would be a “massive opportunity” for UK farmers. The trade deal would allow Australia tariff-free access to goods.

Currently, the UK is Australia’s 7th largest trading partner, while Australia is the UK’s 20th. The government says that the free trade agreement could increase UK exports to Australia by up to £900m, and workers’ wages by 0.02% - 0.07%.

SNP leader, Ian Blackford is strongly against giving Australia tax-free access, saying the trade deal would be the “final nail in the coffin” for Scottish crofters. However, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, and Brexit Minister Lord Frost have full faith in the deal. Ms Truss said she was confident British farmers would “thrive”.

The Department for International Trade said: “Any deal we sign with Australia will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards”.

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