New complications are emerging following the imposition of a “Brexit border” between Britain and Northern Ireland that requires extra customs checks and documents.
Suppliers in Britain have been telling companies in Northern Ireland that they will stop selling them goods, or are asking that they cover costs such as shipping and red tape as a condition of getting their orders filled.
One British-based company that deals regularly with builders’ suppliers north of the Border recently wrote to customers in the North asking them to cover new paperwork costs.
The letter shows that this company is seeking a total of £70 (€78.37) to cover paperwork needed to ship from Britain to Northern Ireland – £35 each for exit and entry documents at either side of the journey across the Irish Sea.
It also shows the company is seeking £140 to cover paperwork needed to ship from Britain to the Republic – £70 each for exit and entry documents.
The firm says that its shipping companies have told it that the best deal for Irish customers on either side of the Border may be to arrange shipping themselves and collect any goods they order from the British company’s premises.
Roger Pollen, head of external affairs Northern Ireland with the Federation of Small Business, confirmed that the problem had affected some members.
However, he said it was difficult to say how widespread or otherwise the issue was at this stage.
Mr Pollen explained that the new trade regime had only just been introduced, while Covid-19 restrictions were also hampering normal business activity.
Also, there are periods of grace for different categories of goods, which lapse between the end of March and the end of June, that might be obscuring certain challenges and difficulties.
The problem appears to mainly affect small businesses. The Confederation of British Industry in Belfast, which represents many larger employers, said it had received no reports of this from members.
News of the problem emerged after Seán Kelly, a Fine Gael MEP, called for an update to the Brexit rules of origin, which pose a potential headache to British retailers operating in the Republic.
While EU- and British-origin goods moving between both jurisdictions are subject to zero tariff rates, products imported to Britain from Europe and then re-exported to the bloc can incur tariffs.
British retail chains frequently import products from Europe and then redistribute them to the Republic via the UK, leaving them open to possible tariffs.
Last week chains including Marks & Spencer and Tesco both confirmed that this was a potential issue for their businesses.
Mr Kelly argued that various aspects of the rules were creating difficulties for many businesses, particularly smaller ones.
“We need an updated agreement on rules of origin that clearly reflects distribution chains,” he said.