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ROI alcohol legislation poses post Brexit barrier to cross border trade for NI producers

New labelling requirements contravene Irish Government’s commitment to frictionless border

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster pictured with Jarlath Watson, Finance Director Echlinville Distillery at their site in Newtownards.

Hospitality Ulster, the Northern Ireland industry body for the licensed trade, has said numerous local producers have expressed grave concerns about the impact that pending legislation in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) will have on their ability to export products across the Irish border.

The Ireland Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which is currently before the Dáil for debate, includes a requirement for businesses to produce bespoke labelling for alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland.

These proposals include mandatory cancer warnings on labels, and a requirement that health warnings take up at least one-third of the label, making the Republic of Ireland the only country in the EU with such a labelling requirement.

Northern Ireland has seen a resurgence of microbrewers and small craft distillers in recent years with in the region of 40 now in production, all of which will be directly affected by the legislation that will place a significant financial burden on their businesses by creating new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.

Any increase in costs or reduction in suppliers will also have a negative impact on pubs, restaurants and hotels in Northern Ireland as the diversity of locally produced beers and spirits has become an increasingly important part of the offering and overall tourism experience.

Following the recent developments within the Brexit process which affirmed Ireland, the EU and the UK’s commitment to protecting North South cooperation regarding trade as well as maintaining regulatory alignment, Hospitality Ulster has said this planned legislation would make a mockery of those commitments.

Commenting on the proposed legislation, Hospitality Ulster’s Chief Executive, Colin Neill said, “The Republic of Ireland is the key export market for the majority of Northern Ireland’s alcohol producers.  If the Irish Government introduces this particular element of its planned legislation, it would represent a significant impediment to the growth of those businesses, including a number of craft distillers.

“With the challenges that Brexit has created and the commitment to regulatory alignment in key areas, it is incumbent on all parties to ensure that they do not create new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland. I would call on the Irish Government, the UK and the EU to ensure that policy that is introduced now and in future does not, in any way, impact upon the free movement of goods across the island.”

County Down based Echlinville Distillery, which became Northern Ireland’s first licensed distillery in over 125 years in 2013 and produces premium gin and whiskey, is one of the many craft distillers that the legislation would impact.

Jarlath Watson, Finance Director Echlinville Distillery said, “Starting from small beginnings we have developed our business, grown our brand and established a strong reputation in the premium spirit market over the last number of years.  Our exports south of the border have played a major role in that success with our bottling, packaging and labelling systems being streamlined across all our markets and based on the long-standing premise that regulatory requirements within the EU will be aligned.

“The implementation of the Irish Government’s planned legislation would require us to deliver a major upheaval to our production systems costing time and money, reducing our margins within a key export market and putting future job creation at risk. In short, it will create an unnecessary barrier to trade at a time of considerable uncertainty.”

The drinks industry currently operates on an integrated all island basis, with seamless cross border supply chains and cooperation integral to continued competitiveness. Maintaining this level of frictionless trade is a priority with many companies relying on both markets for production.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) which represents alcohol producers on both sides of the border, echoed the concerns of Hospitality Ulster and shares the view that the Bill will be a barrier to trade across the island of Ireland and throughout the EU.

ABFI Director, Patricia Callan, added, “The trading relationship on the island of Ireland post-Brexit needs to be frictionless and tariff free. However, if this Bill is passed it would create new risks for drinks producers and distributors selling across the island as well as exporting to the rest of the EU.  We believe that the Irish Government should introduce small changes to balance the Bill, to help support those businesses that are so dependent on cross border trade and make such a valuable contribution to building a thriving island economy.”

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