Retailers: European Commission vice-president needs to engage on trade

Michael McHugh, PA

Independent retailers in Northern Ireland have urged the European Commission vice-president to engage with them on post-Brexit trade.

On Thursday Maros Sefcovic is holding a meeting with business leaders on problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said his independent shopkeeper members were facing a double-whammy of complications obtaining supplies from the rest of the UK and pandemic pressures.

Glyn Roberts
Glyn Roberts urged the European Commission vice-president to engage with independent retailers (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said: “I do think it is important that the European Commission vice-president engages with a wide cross-section of the business community, one that is representative of the economy here.

“We have got a contribution to make.

“This is a small business economy.

“Retailers play a bigger role in our economy than is the case in the rest of the UK.

“We want to ensure that voice is heard.”

Northern Ireland is following the EU’s trade rules to prevent a hard land border with the Republic.

That entails extra paperwork on goods shipped from Great Britain.

Mr Sefcovic has said mistakes were made in the process leading up to the EU’s recent attempt to trigger Article 16 of the protocol to prevent coronavirus vaccine supplies entering the rest of the UK via the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic said the commission “deeply regrets” how it handled the issue.

Mr Roberts added: “We should ensure that we have appropriate changes in the protocol that work for all retailers and wholesalers, whether they are independent or multiple.

“There is an emerging clear consensus that we need the grace period extended and we need long-term solutions.”

He appeared before Stormont’s Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday and said retailers were facing a “perfect storm” of pressures from Covid-19 and the post-Brexit trade problems.

Progress has been made on areas like groupage, pallets transported in the same lorry but destined for different customers, which had posed a red tape headache earlier in the year.

Mr Roberts added: “There are only so many cliff-edges the business community can fall off.

“We have got to get progress on fixing the protocol.”

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