Irish manufacturers and distributors of furniture, agricultural machinery and a wide range of other end products for the UK market were last week relieved of the need to have all their products recertified with a UK post-conformity assessment. Brexit (UKCA) product safety mark.
This is an expensive process, involving the submission of certified data on all aspects of the product to designated UK bodies and the labeling of approved products with the UKCA mark. The process was, until last week, essential if Irish or other EU businesses were to continue selling in the UK market from January 1 next year.
Industry groups here have estimated the cost at around 100 million euros for compliance across the sector, many of which have already incurred compliance costs, while others have decided to abandon the market, focusing instead on selling in Northern Ireland and the EU.
The latest delay, the third in less than two years, means the scheme will not come into effect until 2025.
The move pushes the contentious issue, which the vast majority of UK manufacturers had opposed, beyond the upcoming UK election, giving Rishi Sunak and his Conservative party one less problem to worry about.
British manufacturers and their Irish counterparts have repeatedly criticized the UKCA mark as cumbersome, expensive and impractical. While the delay may be welcomed by some, it is very unwelcome for some industries and hurts productivity and sales.
The UKCA mark does not apply to Northern Ireland, which under the NI Protocol agreement may continue to use the European Union’s CE product safety mark and may, under certain circumstances, use a UKNI mark.
This gives NI manufacturers the best of both worlds and has facilitated industry growth and explains some of the increased sales of Irish manufacturers who have favored selling cross-border with CE marking only.
This latest extension comes less than a month after the UK government announced it was delaying the implementation of post-Brexit medical device regulations by another 12 months.
For any medical device manufacturer wishing to bring new products to the UK market, post-Brexit changes meant complying with two separate sets of regulatory and legal requirements, dealing with separate regulators.
Initially, the UK government set a date for early January last year by which all medical devices, including heart stents and pacemakers largely made in Ireland, had to be registered with the UK regulator. MHRA before being placed on the UK market.
But due to ongoing Brexit trade negotiations and unpredictable outcomes, medical devices without UK Notified Body labeling have faced difficulties clearing Irish and European borders.
Under the latest extension, certificates issued by EU recognized bodies in Ireland will remain valid for the UK market until June 30, 2024.
This news will be a welcome relief to Irish and UK manufacturers in the sector following widely published reports of a backlog in processing UKCA applications.
The British Chamber of Commerce has called for the deadline to be pushed back to 2026, to allow negotiation of a long-term solution to avoid additional costs to importing and exporting businesses.
Many manufacturers said the UKCA was an unnecessary conformity mark and should be dropped altogether, continuing only with the EU CE quality mark.
However, this would require a new comprehensive trade agreement between the UK and the EU, allowing UK bodies to approve and regulate manufacturers applying for CE marks.
Rishi Sunak has been heavily preoccupied with his domestic agenda and has yet to elaborate on his approach to the EU. However, there has been a lot of positive noise, as Taoiseach Micheál Martin saw when he recently met with him at the British-Irish Council (BIC) summit.
There is the critical issue of Northern Ireland Protocol legislation hanging over his head, but if Sunak is to turn the page on Brexit he would walk through an open door.