Tesco is ordering its suppliers to ship food across the Irish Sea themselves as Britain’s biggest grocer tries to avoid being caught in turmoil at the borders.
The chain is preparing to change to how it delivers to Northern Irish supermarkets once further Brexit checks are introduced in October, amid fears that the current process where Tesco lorries carry across trailers full of mixed products will cause delays and reams of paperwork.
Instead, the company has asked some of those suppliers to start delivering their own products from Great Britain into the Republic of Ireland, before Tesco takes them over the border into Northern Ireland. The talks were first reported by The Grocer .
Experts said the plans could be followed by other major supermarkets seeking to avoid disruption. However, the proposals were met with dismay by suppliers’ lobby groups who fear companies will be landed with extra costs as a result.
A spokesman for Tesco said: “Through the Brexit transition period, we have worked collaboratively with our suppliers and provided support where we can in order to minimise any potential disruption for customers,” he said.
“The upcoming requirements for transporting certain food in Northern Ireland are very complex and we are speaking to our suppliers about how we can make this process as efficient as possible over the next few months.”
New red tape is set to come into force between Great Britain and Northern Ireland from October, requiring food products to be checked by customs and certified.
The checks had been expect to come in earlier but the UK unilaterally extended grace periods in the Northern Ireland protocol including a three-month exemption for supermarkets. That decision was met with a backlash from Brussels, which argued it was against the Brexit treaty.
Ministers earlier this month issued the European Commission with a roadmap for when regulations will be introduced .
Peter Hardwick from the British Meat Processors Association, which represents fresh meat suppliers, said that on average the cost of delivering goods to the European Union had doubled since Brexit.
He said: “That added cost has to be paid for by somebody. Inevitably it means it’s being pushed onto suppliers, and all they can do is look at where they recover that cost.
“It’s a very complex process to get goods into the European Union and Northern Ireland, and retailers are saying that’s a level of complexity we don’t want to be involved with or deal with.”
A spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union added the initiative from Tesco could affect a small number of its members who directly supply the chain.
He said: “It is vital that primary producers are not adversely impacted by this policy, and we will be seeking clarity on this with Tesco.”
The trade group urged the EU and UK Governments to work together to overcome issues with the movement of goods.
Meanwhile, a new report has found that British firms have paid unnecessary tariffs on billions of pounds worth of goods travelling to the EU since Brexit because the paperwork to claim free access is too complicated.
Analysis of European customs data by researchers from the University of Sussex found that £3.5bn of tariffs were paid to EU countries in January and February, as companies failed to take advantage of the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal.
Firms said the paperwork to claim zero-tariff access was too complicated, or that they had planned to reclaim the fees from Europe later but had yet to do so.
The bill suggests around 10 per cent of goods travelling to the EU from the UK have been hit by tariffs, slapping British businesses with extra costs.
The report, by the University of Sussex’s Trade Policy Observatory, said some of the UK’s biggest multinational companies had paid millions in tariffs, despite the expectation they could access EU markets without additional costs after Brexit.
Tesco is not the only supermarket to raise concerns over the difficulties of shipping items between the UK, EU and Northern Ireland. Earlier this week Marks & Spencer said it had found the new admin process “horrific” .
Steve Rowe, chief executive of M&S, said: “The Irish business is robust, but we are seeing difficulties in some categories of food and that will get worse over time.”
He said the system of moving items between the EU, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had proved to be “complex and not necessarily clearly defined”.
M&S was stung by a £16m bill from Brexit costs during its latest financial year. This included £14m of spending on administration, such as for new paperwork and customs documents.