According to the Irish Exporters Association (IEA), around 67% of Irish exporters currently make use of the UK land-bridge to access continental markets. For Irish meat exports, this figure rises to over 90%, data compiled by Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the trade association representing the Irish meat processing sector, show.
However, the UK’s impending departure from the EU Customs Union has raised concerns that this route may become unviable. A survey by the IEA in March last year found that 57% of Irish exporters would consider shipping directly to Benelux or other continental ports, if transit times or costs of going through the UK increase.
“[The Irish] meat processing sector remains very concerned about the potential implications arising from a hard Brexit,” an MII spokesperson told GlobalMeatNews. “The prospect of additional customs controls, as well as veterinary checks and the resultant delays and costs on business, are major concerns.”
It remains unclear what customs arrangements will be put in place between Ireland and the UK post-Brexit, although the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union stressed that “nothing will change” during the implementation period through December 2020, following the official Brexit date of 29 March 2019.
Freight companies have been quick to offer alternatives for Irish exporters looking to boost direct trade with Europe.
Irish Continental Group (ICG), which operates Irish Ferries, will bring its new cruise ferry, the WB Yeats, into service between Dublin and the French port of Cherbourg in July this year, with 2,800 lane metres of freight capacity – enough to accommodate 165 freight vehicles.
ICG declined to say whether this service was aimed at helping Irish exporters bypass the UK.
Speaking to GlobalMeatNews, a spokesperson for ICG said its plans would involve providing “sufficient capacity to satisfy foreseeable freight demand from meat producers on all routes to UK and continental Europe”. This included “vessels currently in service, the arrival of our new cruise ferry, WB Yeats and the introduction in 2020 on the Dublin to Holyhead route of a new, even larger cruise ferry currently being built in Germany [with 5,610 freight lane metres, capable of accommodating 330 freight units per sailing]…”
Meanwhile, CLdN, a Luxembourg-based shipping company, introduced a new freight ferry to Europe, the MV Celine, with a capacity of 8,000 lane metres, which began operating between Dublin, the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and the Dutch port of Rotterdam, in October 2017.
MII said:“[Irish] exporters welcome such developments and see them as an important part of mitigating the most negative aspects of Brexit, particularly a hard Brexit,” but stressed, “The land bridge remains the most economical and time-efficient way of exporting product to the continent.”