Written answers

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Department of Trade, Enterprise and Employment

Brexit Preparations

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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79. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the extent to which he and his Department continue to identify and make provision for a fallout from Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30871/20]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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81. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the extent to which he and his Department continue to make provision to ensure a fair and competitive position for the State in the aftermath of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30873/20]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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84. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the extent to which he and his Department continue to make provision for alternative routes to their markers for exporters here in the aftermath of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30876/20]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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87. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the ten countries with which the State continues to have the most trade in terms of imports and exports; the opportunities that might arise in these areas in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30879/20]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 81, 84 and 87 together.

A no trade deal between the EU and the UK is not in anyone's interests. It is for this reason that the EU continues to negotiate in good faith to try to achieve the type of future partnership with the UK that was described in the Political Declaration, agreed less than a year ago.

The aim is for a zero tariff zero quota Free Trade Agreement, linked also to a fisheries agreement as well as measures to ensure that a level playing field will operate between the EU and the UK. However, a deal cannot come at any cost and we cannot undermine the EU’s economic interests or the integrity of the Single Market.

Brexit, in whatever shape it finally takes, will have a significant impact on the Irish economy fundamentally changing the trading environment for businesses trading with the UK excluding Northern Ireland. Whatever the outcome of the EU-UK future relationship negotiations, the UK will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union at the end of the transition period. With just over two months until this economic Brexit, work to ensure Government, business and citizens are getting Brexit ready is of paramount importance, because change will happen from 1 January 2021.

Government has over the last number of budgets taken extensive action to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit.

A range of initiatives are available from Government to assist with getting Brexit ready. These range from planning vouchers, consultancy and mentoring supports, tariff advisory services, research on new markets, and innovation supports. These are all provided through agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices and InterTradeIreland.

Financial supports are available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland such as the Brexit Loan Scheme which offers businesses the means to deal with short term liquidity issues that could arise for instance in buying stocks or for delays that could arise at the ports.

Businesses also need longer term funding for investment purposes, and the SBCI Future Growth Loan Scheme, which was expanded at the beginning of the Summer in response to very high demand, provides up to €800m in lending to eligible businesses to support strategic long-term investment, including for a post-Brexit/post-Covid-19 environment.

The new €2 billion Credit Guarantee Scheme, which Government launched in mid-September, is the largest guarantee scheme that has ever been provided for Irish businesses to date to ensure there is financing available for Irish businesses as they reboot and rebuild both through Covid-19 and Brexit.

We have also provided further funding to MFI to ensure it can meet the needs of microenterprises that can not avail of bank funding over the coming period.

Budget 2021 is no different and has been developed on a worst case scenario based of a No Deal Brexit. In this Budget, Government announced a contingency fund of €100 million that will be available to assist businesses to deal with Brexit.

Customs is an area that will most immediately impact businesses on 1 January next and we have been actively working to put in place grants and customs training programmes.As part of the July jobs stimulus, Government rolled out a €20 million Ready for Customs package to help businesses involved in exporting and importing with the UK to put in place the necessary internal arrangements, staffing, software, and IT systems to be ready for the new customs arrangements and regulatory requirements that will apply from 1 January 2021.

As part of this package, Enterprise Ireland launched a new “Ready for Customs” grant through which businesses can claim grants of up to €9,000 per eligible employee hired, or redeployed within the business, to a dedicated customs role. A second phase of Skillnet Ireland’s free customs training, Clear Customs Online 2020, is open for applications since 9 September, to support the customs intermediary sector and businesses that trade frequently with, or through, the UK. Since 9 September, over 1,000 businesses have registered for Clear Customs Online 2020.

Enterprise Ireland also run an on-line Customs Insights course which is helping businesses to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to move goods from, to and through the UK. The Local Enterprise Offices are also carrying out the second phase of their one-to-one successful Brexit mentoring and training “Prepare Your Business for Customs” workshops. These workshops have commenced and are supported by a full awareness campaign to target small Irish businesses.

In early September, Government published a Brexit Readiness Action Plan. This Plan provides guidance and advice to business and individuals in a vast range of areas including trade in goods and services, customs and other sanitary and phytosanitary checks and controls, import duties, EU single market accreditations, use of the UK landbridge, data transfer, recognition of qualifications, and many other issues. The Plan provides clear advice on steps that need to be taken by businesses to address these many and varied issues come 1 January 2021.

Last week I wrote to all businesses that are registered in the State which amounts to over 225,000 businesses to inform them of key actions that they need to take in advance of 1 January and to provide them with a useful Brexit Checklist of those key actions.The Revenue Commissioners have also written to over 90,000 businesses that have traded with the UK since 2019 to advise them of essential customs changes that lie ahead. This letter also included relevant information from the Department of Agriculture on exporting animals, plants and products of animal and plant origin. Revenue is proactively following up by way of telephone calls with the businesses to work to get the messages across.

My Department, through the regulatory agencies under my remit, also has ongoing engagement in important regulatory areas such as product certification and standardisation, market surveillance and on consumer and competition issues. Agencies such as the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) are currently hosting webinars to inform businesses of the important steps they need to take to be Brexit ready from a regulatory perspective.

The Department of Transport has been engaging extensively with the shipping sector to assess the capacity available on direct routes to continental ports. The sector has indicated that sufficient capacity is available on direct routes and that the sector is capable of responding to any further increase in demand. Now is the time for engagement between traders, hauliers and ferry companies to align their transit demands with shipping capacity. I would also encourage traders to proactively consider switching to direct ferry route options to the continent wherever feasible to avoid where possible transiting through the UK Landbridge.

Preparing for the change that Brexit will bring from the start of next year is a key priority across Government. This work has intensified and will continue in the period ahead. We remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure that businesses and citizens are as ready as they can be for the end of transition.

In terms of Ireland’s top 10 trading partners (for exports and imports of goods & services) these are: the US, UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, China, Switzerland, Italy and Japan. While the UK is, and will remain, a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK is a key priority. In that context, Enterprise Ireland’s strategy is to support Irish exporters to be more innovative, competitive and market diversified with a commitment to assist and support clients to enter new markets and expand in their current markets.

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