Irish manufacturers and distributors of furniture, agricultural machinery, and a wide range of other finished goods for the British market, were given fresh relief last week from the need to have all their products re-certified with a post Brexit UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) product safety mark.
This is a costly process, involving submission of certified data on all aspects of the product to designated UK bodies, and labelling approved products with the UKCA mark. The process was, until last week, essential if Irish or other EU businesses were to continue selling into the British market from January 1 next year onwards.
Industry groups here have put the cost at around €100m for compliance across the entire sector, many of whom have already incurred compliance costs, while others have decided to abandon the market, focusing instead on selling to Northern Ireland and the EU.
The latest delay, the third in less than two years, means the scheme will now not come into force until 2025.
The move pushes the contentious issue, which had been opposed by the vast majority of British manufacturers, back to beyond the next UK election, giving Rishi Sunak and his Conservative party one less issue to worry about.
Burdensome and expensive
British manufacturers and their Irish counterparts have repeatedly criticised the UKCA mark as burdensome, expensive and impractical. While the delay may be welcomed by some, it is most unwelcome for some industries and damages productivity and hits sales.
The UKCA mark does not apply to Northern Ireland, which under the NI Protocol agreement can continue to use the European Union CE product safety mark and may in certain circumstances use a UKNI mark.
This gives NI manufacturers the best of both worlds and has facilitated a growth in the sector and accounts for some of the increased sales from Irish manufacturers who have favoured selling across the border with the CE mark only.
This latest extension comes less than a month after the UK government announced it was delaying the implementation of the post-Brexit medical devices regulations for another 12 months.
Post-Brexit, EU and UK healthcare product regulations left quite a few manufacturers pondering the viability of releasing new products onto the British market.
For any medical device manufacturer wanting to place new products on the UK market, the post-Brexit changes meant complying with two separate sets of regulatory and legal requirements, dealing with separate regulatory bodies.
Initially the British government had set the start of January last year as the date for all medical device, including heart stents and pacemakers extensively manufactured in Ireland, to be registered with the UK regulatory body MHRA before being placed on the British market.
But due to the ongoing Brexit trade negotiations and the unpredictable outcomes, medical devices without labelling by a UK notified body faced challenges in clearance at Irish and EU border customs.
Under the latest extension, certificates issued by EU-recognised bodies in Ireland will continue to be valid for the British market until June 30, 2024.
This news will come as welcome relief to Irish as well as UK manufacturers in the sector following widely published reports of a backlog in processing UKCA applications.
The British Chamber of Commerce has requested that the delay should be pushed back further to 2026, to enable a long-term solution to be negotiated to avoid extra costs for both importing and exporting companies.
Many manufacturers have stated the UKCA was an unnecessary compliance mark and should be dropped completely, continuing with only the EU’s CE quality mark.
However, this would require a new Comprehensive Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU, enabling UK bodies to approve and regulate manufacturers applying for CE marks.
Rishi Sunak has been heavily preoccupied by his domestic agenda and has not yet spelled out his approach to the EU. However, there have been lots of positive noises as Taoiseach Micheál Martin found during his recent meeting with him at the British-Irish Council (BIC) Summit.
There is the critical matter of the Northern Ireland Protocol legislation hanging over his head, but if Sunak wants to turn the page on Brexit, he would be walking through an open door.
John Whelan is an expert on Irish and international trade