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Northern Ireland’s leading supermarkets have issued a call for urgent action to avoid trade disruption after the existing grace periods end in October.

The six retailers wrote to Brexit minister David Frost and European Commission VP Maroš Šefčovič, calling for urgent action over trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

They said without a solution they will be forced to move supply chains from Great Britain to the EU to avoid the increased checks, paperwork and need for export health certificates.

While they welcomed certain agreements such as the recent extension of a grace period for chilled meats, “much more needs to be done before the end of September if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers”, said the letter.

The letter’s signatories included Jason Tarry, Tesco UK CEO, Roger Burnley, Asda CEO, and Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO.

They urged the UK and EU governments to enter discussions with retailers, visit their supply chains and distribution centres, and host joint talks between government technical officials and retail supply chain experts to find a working solution.

The letter warned that “without swift, decisive and co-operative movement on this issue there will be disruption”, and called on Frost and Šefčovič to “help us minimise this disruption and allow us to continue to provide the people of Northern Ireland with choice and affordability”.

It listed possible solutions such as a veterinary agreement, a wider sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement and a facilitated movement scheme or a trusted trader scheme, but added sufficient time must also be given to implement.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said the new red tape was already causing delays and challenging ‘just in time’ supply chains.

“If no action is taken, it will be the people of Northern Ireland, with half of the discretionary income of GB households, who bear the brunt of this stalemate – meaning less choice and higher costs for essential food purchases.”

“We need to see real ambition from both sides to provide a compromise that benefits those most impacted: the people of Northern Ireland.

“Our members made significant investments in the last few months to avoid disruption, yet disruption will become inevitable if the regime that will come into force in October is unrealistic and disproportionately onerous.

“Retailers have shown their compliance. The government and EU must now help us by removing the barriers to GB-NI supply chains.”

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