UK looking to support Northern Ireland food chains, minister says

FILE PHOTO: A lorry is seen in Belfast Harbour, Northern Ireland, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is considering further support measures for agricultural food producers and trying to find a solution for supermarkets as part of its Brexit talks with the European Union over trade to Northern Ireland, a minister said.

Britain is 43 days away from the end of a Brexit transition period, after which EU rules that ensure free movement of goods between Britain, British province Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland will cease to apply. Talks on how to replace EU rules and keep goods flowing freely have yet to reach agreement.

Robin Walker, the junior minister for Northern Ireland, told parliament further details should be announced shortly on support for agrifood producers, who will face checks and paperwork demands to send goods to the province from Jan. 1.

“There remain important outstanding issues to be resolved in discussion with the EU,” he said. “For example, we are seeking specific solutions to supermarkets and on the classification of which goods are in genuine and substantial risk of entering the EU market, through the joint committee.”

In order to secure a Brexit divorce deal last year, London agreed that the province would remain in the UK customs territory but maintain customs and regulatory alignment with the EU to prevent the need for a hard border with EU-member Ireland.

But that will create a customs border in the Irish sea with Britain, and the infrastructure and systems that will be required to conduct checks on livestock and food are not yet ready.

The government has faced criticism from businesses who say they do not have enough information to prepare for what could be the biggest change in trading conditions for decades.

Walker said the computer systems central to parts of the new processes Britain wants to implement were being delivered on time.

Reporting by William James and Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison