In the runup to the publication on Monday of a bill that will give UK government ministers powers to make sweeping changes to the NI protocol, a number of leaders from within the NI agri-food industry set out their support for the current trading arrangements.

In particular, the argument was made that the protocol has delivered free access to both the UK and EU markets for goods produced here.

It is that free access to the EU that counterparts in Britain can only dream of. We export nearly 80% of everything we produce and are also highly dependent on Republic of Ireland factories to process about one-third of our milk and over 40% of our lamb. The last thing we need are any barriers to trade.

But at the same time there is a general recognition that the protocol is far from perfect. It has delivered a high burden of bureaucracy, especially for those importing animal and plant products from Britain to NI.

Green lane

The proposed UK solution for a green lane (free of paperwork) for goods staying in NI is of merit, particularly for those bringing in retail products.

The other main idea outlined on Monday is for a dual regulatory regime.

However, it is a horrible plan, and has the potential to create a real mess in NI.

Under the proposal, goods placed on the market in NI could either be produced to UK or EU rules. If two standards operate, imagine the paperwork trail required to satisfy our export customers.

What this policy does is let the UK government off the hook when it comes to doing trade deals with the US, Canada, Brazil etc. At present, the more the UK diverges from the EU on standards, the greater the risk of trade friction on the Irish Sea. A dual regulatory regime automatically removes that concern. It would be wrong for any NI politician to support such a move.

Instead, our political and industry leaders should be collectively calling on the UK government to negotiate a veterinary and plant health agreement with the EU, which would, in effect, remove virtually all of the friction caused by the protocol. It would be a powerful statement. There is nothing to lose.

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