Britain seeking to extend N.Ireland food supply grace period to all retailers

·2 min read

DUBLIN, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Britain is seeking to extend a post-Brexit grace period to all Northern Ireland retail that currently will exempt supermarkets bringing in food products from mainland Britain from additional checks, Britain's minister for the region said on Monday.

When the United Kingdom exits the European Union's orbit on Dec. 31, Northern Ireland will remain aligned to the EU's single market and goods arriving there will be subject to EU customs rules.

A joint UK/EU committee working out how to implement the tailor-made Northern Ireland arrangements agreed last week to exempt supermarkets from completing export health certificates for three months and told them that there would be no change to current regulations around chilled meats for six months.

The main trade body representing wholesalers and independent retailers such as smaller convenience stores that compete with supermarket giants like Tesco, Sainsbury's have demanded the same terms to avoid being put at a competitive disadvantage.

"Our view is that grace period should apply to retailers moving products from Great Britain into Northern Ireland and we are working to ensure we get that clarity as quickly as possible," Brandon Lewis told BBC Northern Ireland radio.

"We are working with the EU to try and ensure that we can make this work for all businesses. Obviously the impact of the wider trade agreement has an impact on this as well."

Trade groups in Northern Ireland have said supermarkets may have to source some products from other markets such as across the open border in EU-member Ireland once the grace period ends. Lewis said London's intention was not to create a cliff edge but to find a permanent solution.

"We will be working with the EU to show that there is a way that those products can flow properly with the confidence of the EU that it's not going have any kind of abuse of the system," he said. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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