NIRC reacts to the grace period extension: Long-term solutions must be delivered

NIRC reacts to the grace period extension: Long-term solutions must be delivered
NIRC welcomes extension of grace period for chilled meats

The EU has announced a three-month extension of the grace period for chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Britain. Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, such meats, including sausages and mince, were due to be banned if entering from Britain.

An initial six-month grace period delaying the ban, agreed by both sides last December, is due to expire at midnight on 30th June. The issue of chilled meats has become emblematic of the deeper tensions over how the protocol is being implemented.

The EU bans the import of chilled, non-frozen meats, such as sausages, mince, pies and other products, from third countries. Since Northern Ireland applies EU food safety rules, such products would not be permitted from Britain.

In December, the EU agreed a six-month grace period on the condition that the UK would clearly label such products, that they would undergo checks in special channels at Northern Ireland ports, and that the UK would continue to align with EU food safety rules for the duration of the grace period.

The UK issued a declaration agreeing with those conditions. As tension mounted over the protocol in the past few months, it was expected that the UK would unilaterally extend the grace period without consulting the EU. However, a formal request was made, and EU member states and the European Commission have agreed to it in principle.

In a formal legal procedure, the EU has linked the agreement to the fact that Northern Irish supermarkets have been adapting their supply chains, meaning they are sourcing such products either locally, or from the Republic, in other words, not from Britain.

Reacting to the UK-EU agreement to extend the grace period for the sale of chilled meats, Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said:

“While it is good to see the EU and the UK cooperating on this issue and reaching agreement, this is, in trade terms, a peripheral matter. The most pressing issue is the fate of the thousands of food products moving daily from GB to NI, which will be subject to extensive controls when that grace period ends in October. We are no closer to a decision by both sides on this.

“There is a frustration felt across business. We can see the technical solutions that are possible, such as a trusted trader scheme, yet there does not seem to be the political will to deliver them. We need both sides to live up to their commitments and find a pragmatic solution to ensure NI consumers continue to get access to both the choice and affordability in the food they need. Yet again the clock is ticking.”