Responding to the UK Government's position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland, published today, Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said:
"We welcome the recognition of the importance of Northern Ireland and Ireland issues and their unique situation given by both the UK Government and the EU.
"We look forward to the development of “flexible and imaginative solutions” for the border as laid down by the European Council in their negotiating guidelines and broadly agree with the priorities of avoiding a hard border. This involves maintaining the existing Common Travel Area and associated arrangements; and upholding the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement, including the principles of continued North-South and East-West cooperation.
"While the October deadline for an agreement on the Common Travel Area is to be welcomed, we need solutions on the movement of goods, health and on tariffs in a similarly expedited manner well in advance of March 2019 to provide certainty for our members and for Northern Ireland consumers.
"Our members buy over £1.6 billion of Northern Ireland agri-food (over ¼ of everything produced in Northern Ireland) but we use less than ¼ of that in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of the rest travels across the border through Ireland to get to Great Britain. This means that if there are financial and administrative burdens caused by new tariffs or a difficult border regime, costs could rise not only for Northern Ireland consumers, but for consumers across the UK.
"We wholly welcome early dialogue between the EU and the UK to focus in particular on the issues most critical to delivering as frictionless and seamless a border as possible.
"We as the retail industry, which represents over 12 per cent of the Northern Ireland economy, stand ready to support this dialogue and hope that both the UK government and the EU will make use of our experience and expertise in this area not just for our own industry but for the agri-food, construction and service industries whom we support, but most of all, for the hard pressed Northern Ireland consumer."