Newtownards businessman, Dr Adam Hunniford is urging Northern Ireland businesses to seize the opportunities created by the contentious Brexit NI Protocol.
Dr Hunniford, of PiP Chemicals, said that whilst the issue remains politically divisive businesses can use the unique position of Northern Ireland to boost existing trade with the EU and develop new contracts.
“The Irish Sea Border means that for EU companies buying from Great Britain, they cease to be simple distributors who can rely on their suppliers meeting the regulatory requirements,” he said.
“Rather, they become importers who must ensure these are all met – themselves – and shoulder the responsibility should there be failings.
“The same is not the case for EU buying from Northern Ireland, as Northern Ireland is in both the EU and GB regulatory systems. So a PiP Chemicals competitor in GB trying to sell to an EU company causes the EU company a set of issues they never had before that do not exist when buying from PiP.
“In real terms what that means is that if you get your supplies through GB, the EU can ask about regulations, compliance and any relevant duties.”
Dr Hunniford said that this has created circumstances that can be capitalised on.
“The opportunities lie in the EU market for Northern Ireland companies,” he explained.
“At the moment Northern Ireland is still operating in the EU system, comply with the rules and customers in Ireland remain a distributor and which means any compliance issues remain with the Northern Ireland company.”
He explained that already the Irish Health and Services Agency is clamping down on GB companies trading to the Republic of Ireland leading to many no longer supplying south of the border.
The Co Down businessman said that now was the time to promote Northern Ireland’s position.
“We should be shouting loud that we are still part of the EU, you can buy from us, there are no delays or regulatory hurdles,” he explained.
“It may be politically sensitive, but the reality is that we are now in direct competition with Britain.
“We are separate but we can offer something that GB cannot and so we should be saying ‘buy from Britain, have difficulties, buy from us, they will be fewer.”
Dr Hunniford acknowledged that this will not be a popular strategy for many.
He said: “The broader government, of course, won’t like that companies like ours are attempting to take this strategy and it may not go down well with the public at all if Northern Ireland companies started stealing business from other regions of Britain, but that’s what has been created, whether we like it or not.”
He also explained the Brexit situation has been taking place within the context of the global pandemic, meaning most have been trying to cope with unprecedented pressures.
“Shipping containers are in the wrong place, and it will take some time to resolve this,” he said.
“Add into that is there are fewer haulage drivers across the UK. A lot of the lorry drivers were often Eastern European, and they have gone home, and that means there are fewer lorries coming and going.
“Hauliers will not be able to supply services at the same level, as the paperwork and lack of full containers going back and forth to GB is hitting their bottom line and that leads to increasing prices.”
However, whilst there are opportunities to be had, Dr Hunniford also warned there are inflationary pressures building.
“It is imperative that companies look to the current unique position of Northern Ireland to look to EU solutions, including transport and seeking new markets,” he said.
“PiP Chemicals have tried to mitigate the issues by having more stock and supplies, but that has extra storage costs. Had we not had to do that we may have been able to hire extra staff.
“Every company is facing cash flow problems, and that too will lead to price increases.”
Pip Chemicals is based in Newtownards and specialises in designing, formulating and manufacturing products for the automotive business and wider industrial uses. It sells directly to the automotive trade.