OK - I finally give in! For the last 6 months I have avoided talking about Brexit in my articles, simply because I, along with everyone else, am battle weary from it all. Yes, I accept it is the biggest thing that will impact our economy for the next few decades, but there is a feeling of helplessness about it all, spectating in the stand rather than being on the pitch. The conflict and tension in the political arena will continue and so will the media coverage, however the smart entrepreneur will have been exploring what the consequence will be to their business.
It is beginning to dawn on everyone that Brexit will absolutely impact upon every business in the Mid Ulster area. Goods, services, people and money cross back and forth over the Republic’s border every day. Our shopping trolleys are filled with goods that originate from EU countries. We are told that if there is no agreement then the WTO agreement comes into force and there will be tariff barriers imposed just like current trading between non-EU countries. Tariffs are custom taxes that Governments levy on imported goods. The tax can be unit based and/or a percentage of the cost of the product. In effect they raise the price of the imported product.
There is still the potential of technical barriers imposed at the border such as labelling, quality standards and pre-shipment inspections. Products may have to have certificates of origin issued by the NI Chamber of Commerce and there is cost for each certificate. Some of us are not too old to remember the delays at the customs at Aughnacloy. Post Brexit, goods being brought into the UK may be subject to more customs, and associated costs of documentation, customs deposits and possible delays.
The good thing is that businesses in mid Ulster are resilient. A few years ago, we passed through the largest financial crisis in living memory and survived it. A reassuring fact is that if WTO tariffs are imposed more than 80% of products traded across the border will have a WTO tariff of less than 10%. However, if you are in the agri-food production sector the tariffs will be a lot higher.
The legislation is in place that we are scheduled to depart the EU on 29 March 2019 and the politicians will do what they do to negotiate an agreement. My advice to Dungannon businesses is to start exploring the potential impact to your business now. The Intertrade Ireland website has a free Brexit planning toolkit. There is a wealth of information on the WTO tariffs and case studies of businesses preparing now. Many of the products traded across the border will not face a tariff, but there will be non-tariff barriers that will be just as difficult to address. We are in unprecedented economic times and the challenge is to think differently.