Crashing out of the EU would decimate business at NI port

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Tanaonte
© GettyImages/Tanaonte
A leading port in Derry in Northern Ireland, which trades in global commodities such as animal feed and fertilizers, said it would lose 40% of its business in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Brian McGrath, chief executive of Foyle Port, who was part of the largest ever trade delegation of Northern Ireland (NI) businesses to travel to Westminster last week, said crashing out of the EU would be devastating for operations at the shipping center.

“We are an Irish, European and British port simultaneously and, if we have a hard border and crash out, that is all done.”

The annual value of trade passing through the port is estimated to be in the region of £1 billion. 

The port’s business is on both sides of the Irish border. Its headquarters are located in Lisahally on the outskirts of Derry, NI, and its pilots are based in Greencastle in County Donegal, which is in the Republic of Ireland.

Some 30% of its staff come across the border from Donegal every day and 40% of its imported commodities travel south, across the border, according to a report in the Irish Times.

McGrath said politicians needed to find a way to avoid paying post-Brexit tariffs which would make local business uncompetitive: “If we have to pay multiple tariffs and customs and bureaucracy that makes us uncompetitive, then we will be out of business.”

Between Brexit and the lack of a functioning NI Assembly, politics in Northern Ireland is in a state of paralysis, he added.

Last week saw trade NI – a new alliance between the NI hospitality, manufacturing and retail sectors – launch a ten-year plan, Vision 2030, at Westminster, asserting that now is the time to break the cycle of limited economic growth in the region. That plan set out key policy priorities that have the potential to create 65,000 jobs and make Northern Ireland a high growth economy.

NI feed industry pressure

NI producers will “suffer disproportionately to the rest of the UK”​ and farmers could fall into cash flow crisis within weeks of a no deal Brexit, forcing feed producers into some difficult decisions, warned Declan Billington, CEO of Belfast-based Thompson’s, in April this year.

The UK market will not see the pressures that exist in Northern Ireland because the UK is a net importer and Northern Ireland an exporter of meat and dairy. Northern Ireland will suffer disproportionately to the rest of the UK; I don’t think London policy makers appreciate that,”​ Billington told FeedNavigator back then.

The worst-case scenario for the NI feed and farming industry would be a no deal Brexit.

Stark is the word I would use,”​ said Billington.

Some £850m (US$1.09m) of Northern Irish produce travels south every year, including one third of the milk produced by the country’s dairy farmers. These exports would be subject to duties that would price them out of the market, pushing farmers into crisis.

“A third of our dairy farmers may not survive,”​ said Billington.

He paints an equally grim picture for Northern Ireland’s meat and poultry producers, saying: “all our meat and dairy producers would face uneconomic price falls”.

If the worst happens, and Northern Ireland’s farming industry descends into crisis, the feed industry’s dilemma will be whether it can continue supplying this market and increasing its exposure to bad debts – a decision that will largely be determined by the insurance industry’s willingness (or lack of) to provide cover, according to Billington.

“If no deal lasts any time, we will have decisions to make about whether we can supply customers who are losing money hand over fist,”​ he said.

Even if the tax issue can be overcome, there is still the phyto sanitary issue to contend with. It’s a big unknown because nobody knows what the border inspection process would be. It would be a problem for us trading south but even worse for meat and dairy farmers,”​ said Billington.  

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