The new post-Brexit deal, known as the Windsor Framework, has now been formally adopted by the United Kingdom and European Union following ratification by both parties in London just over a week ago.  The Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA) has been heavily involved in discussions with various officials and stakeholders on EU-Exit trade issues, including the UK Prime Minister, and welcomes the recently announced Windsor Framework as a step forward. 

Following the announcement of the Windsor Framework, the UK Government confirmed that it would not proceed with the NI Protocol Bill.  This is a positive development given that the dual regulatory regime proposed within the Bill threatened to impinge on NI’s access to the EU single market, which the local agri-food industry relies on due to the level of cross border trade. 

Nevertheless, outstanding issues are being worked on and it is hoped that with an improvement in UK and EU relations pragmatic solutions can be found.  Access to Tariff Rate Quotas and managing regulatory divergence are key priorities for NIGTA to maintain business competitiveness for the benefit of the local agri-food sector.

Regulatory divergence is an inevitable consequence of EU-Exit without some form of veterinary agreement allowing the UK and EU to mutually recognise each other’s standards as sufficient.  It should also be noted that regulatory divergence impacts the whole of the UK, not just NI, for access to the EU market.

One of the first examples of divergence in agri-food is the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which recently received Royal Assent and has formally become law.  The Act creates powers for a new regulatory framework for precision-bred food and feed products, but only applies to England as the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments do not currently support it, preferring to remain aligned to the EU for access to the EU market.  Precision bred feed cannot be placed on the market in NI unless the precision bred organism is authorised, and the product labelled, in accordance with EU Genetically Modified Organism legislation.  However, the EU is considering proposals for new EU rules on new genomic techniques (NGTs) which are expected to be published later this year.

The UK Government’s Retained EU Law Bill which seeks to revoke certain retained EU law with a sunset clause set for legislation to expire by the end of 2023, unless actively retained by ministers, threatens to rapidly exacerbate regulatory divergence. 

Managing regulatory divergence effectively through properly developed structures and communication channels, which allow for business engagement and two-way free flow of information is critical.  The Windsor Framework makes provision for structured sub groups composed of UK and EU officials, but it is vital that the voice of stakeholders and business is also heard.  NIGTA will continue to engage on finding solutions to the divergence challenge for the benefit of the local agri-food industry.