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The hospitality trade in Northern Ireland is facing additional pressure this morning, thanks once again to the actions of government.

This time it is the parliament in Dublin that is responsible. Pending legislation which is currently before the Dail for debate, includes a requirement for alcohol producers to include bespoke labelling for their products.

The Ireland Public Health (Alcohol) Bill includes a stipulation that alcoholic products sold in the Republic should feature bespoke labelling. This will include mandatory cancer warnings and a requirement that health warnings take up at least one third of the label.

The EU is the only country in the EU which has such a labelling requirement and a number of producers north of the border have already expressed concern about the effect the new legislation could have on their ability to export to the Republic.

Northern Ireland has seen a resurgence of microbrewers and small craft distillers in recent years with around 40 of these now operating. Colin Neill from trade body Hospitality Ulster says that the new legislation will “make a mockery” of commitments undertaken by the EU and the Irish and British governments to protect north-south trade and ensure regulatory alignment under Brexit.

“The Republic of Ireland is the key export market for the majority of Northern Ireland’s alcohol producers. If the Irish Government introduces this particular element of its planned legislation, it would represent a significant impediment to the growth of those businesses, including a number of craft distillers,” he added.

Mr Neill said that it was incumbent on all parties to ensure that new barriers weren’t created to trade on the island of Ireland.

County Down-based Echlinville Distillery, which became Northern Ireland’s first licensed distillery in over 125 years in 2013 and produces premium gin and whiskey, is one of the many craft distillers that the legislation would impact.

Jarlath Watson, finance director at the distillery said that exports south of the border had played a major role in the success of the company:

“The implementation of the Irish government’s planned legislation would require us to deliver a major upheaval to our production systems, costing time and money, reducing our margins within a key export market and putting future job creation at risk,” he added. “In short, it will create an unnecessary barrier to trade at a time of considerable uncertainty.”

The drinks industry currently operates on an integrated all-island basis, with seamless cross border supply chains and cooperation integral to continued competitiveness. Maintaining this level of frictionless trade is a priority with many companies relying on both markets for production.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), which represents alcohol producers on both sides of the border, echoed the trade’s concerns. It shares the view that the Bill will be a barrier to trade across the island of Ireland and throughout the EU.

ABFI director, Patricia Callan, added:

“The trading relationship on the island of Ireland post-Brexit needs to be frictionless and tariff-free. However, if this Bill is passed it would create new risks for drinks producers and distributors selling across the island as well as exporting to the rest of the EU.

“We believe that the Irish government should introduce small changes to balance the Bill to help support those businesses that are so dependent on cross border trade and make such a valuable contribution to building a thriving island economy.”

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