That's the substance of two out of four proposals announced on 13 October by EC vice president Maros Šefčovič. The concessions are aimed at preserving the NI Protocol and avoiding a hard border between GB and NI in the Irish Sea or between NI and the Republic of Ireland, given that the latter remains in the EU.
What the proposals mean for food firms
- A truck transporting 100 different food products (for example, dairy, meat, fish, confectionery, fruit and vegetables) from GB to NI will now just need one certificate stating they meet the requirements of EU legislation instead of 100.
- A business importing products of animal origin (for example, yoghurt, cheese, chicken or turkey) into NI from GB will no longer be subject to the same level of checks and controls. More than 80% of the identity and physical checks previously required will be removed.
- Certain products generally prohibited for import into the EU – for example, sausages – will be allowed to be imported into NI from GB, subject to them carrying individual certificates, for which specific models will be provided.
- A NI business buying goods from GB – for example, a car dealer ordering car parts – will only need to provide basic information, such as the invoice value of the car parts and the parties to the transaction for customs clearance purposes. Over half of the required formalities will be removed. This is subject to safeguards, such as the UK committing to providing full and real-time access to IT systems.
- A food wholesaler established only in GB and not in NI will be eligible for the UK Trader Scheme and could benefit from the scheme to regularly supply retailers in NI. Its customers, local retailers and stores will have no customs reporting obligations.
- NI supermarkets and grocery stores of large national retailers that depend on supply chains and distribution centres established in GB will see their customs formalities reduced to a minimum. They will mainly rely on the internal records of the companies. These companies will file customs declarations only once a month as opposed to filing one declaration per transaction.
A bespoke solution for NI has been introduced in the area of public, plant and animal health - sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks. In practice, this meant vastly simplified certification and a significant reduction (approximately 80%) of official checks for a wide range of retail goods moving from GB to be consumed in NI, the EC claimed.
However, the Commission stated it was conditional on the UK honouring its commitment to complete the construction of permanent Border Control Posts, introduce packaging and labelling indicating that the goods are for sale only in the UK, and reinforced supply chain monitoring.
The measure is in addition to the solutions the EU put forward on 30 June enabling the movement of live animals from GB to NI.
Rapid reaction for problems
In addition, the EC warned a rapid reaction mechanism was required for any problem related to individual products or traders. Unilateral EU measures would also be imposed in case of failure by UK competent authorities or the trader concerned to react to or remedy an identified problem.
Flexible customs formalities would be practised to ease the flow of goods from GB to NI, which would mean a 50% reduction in paperwork.
"When taken together, the bespoke solutions for both SPS and customs rules will create a type of Express Lane for the movement of goods from GB to NI, while at the same providing for a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism in order to protect the integrity of the Single Market," the EC stated in a press statement on the proposals.
There would also be increased communication between NI stakeholders and the EC. "This would make the application of the Protocol more transparent, while at the same time respecting the UK's constitutional order," the Commission stated.
Finally, pharmaceutical companies located in GB supplying NI could keep all their regulatory functions where they are currently situated.
Commission experts are preparing to travel to London to begin intense discussions on the proposals with the UK Government over the coming weeks. Šefčovič expects to meet Lord Frost on Friday in Brussels.
The EU stands united behind Northern Ireland, while also protecting our internal market.— Maroš Šefčovič (@MarosSefcovic) October 13, 2021
I invite the UK government to engage with us earnestly on our package of enhanced opportunities. With these proposals, I believe we could be in the homestretch when it comes to the Protocol. pic.twitter.com/ECyhYYWB4I