A word or two before you go… Ireland, E-Commerce and Brexit
Nightline’s John Tuohy considers the possible consequences of a ‘Brexit’ vote. In the year since a referendum of British voters was included in the Queen’s Speech to the Houses of Parliament, many millions of words have been devoted to the implications for the country’s standing with mainland Europe and even further afield.
However, it seems that the consequences on its commercial relationship with a much nearer neighbour have not necessarily been so well considered.
The Republic of Ireland and Britain are separated by roughly 50 miles of water and a border.
Even with a population dwarfed by those of other trading partners, Ireland represents Britain’s fifth largest export market with more than €1 billion worth of business passing between us every week – a figure inflated ever-higher by the extent to which Irish and UK consumers now buy online from retailers in our respective territories.
And yet, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, if Britain opts to wave Brussels ‘adieu’, our countries will not so much be separated by a common language as a Common Market.
Ireland’s growing appeal for shippers and shoppers alike will count for nothing.
Instead of our good, long-standing ties, there is a risk that trade between Britain and Ireland (and the rest of the countries in the EU) will be tied up in the kind of bureaucracy and red tape which so many individuals are hoping will diminish as UK membership of the EU comes to an end.
Business will take longer, cost more and could, therefore, be less attractive at the very time when the European Commission is trying its best to remove barriers to cross-border online trade with the construction of a Digital Single Market.
The movement of goods between us will undoubtedly be controlled by more regulation and formality, such as the reintroduction of customs clearance, adding to the time taken to move goods across the border between towns on either side of the Northern Irish border.
Such a hold-up will be compounded by the fact that the UK will be outside the EU’s single market VAT regime and the fact that even a country as near as ours will be designated an international market with associated higher shipping tariffs.
All that, of course, will chafe with Irish consumers who have become used to the idea of buying online with convenient and free (or at least relatively low-cost) delivery.
This year, they will account for the fastest rate of e-commerce growth of any EU member state, a large proportion of which is spent in the checkouts of UK-based retailers.
No matter how familiar we in the Republic are with British names and quality, the cost of ordering from the UK may well oblige shoppers to point their mouse in the direction of a different and cheaper brands.
Our respective parcel delivery markets have seen the enormous benefits of trade between Ireland and the UK as e-commerce has taken hold.
It would be a shame and an expensive one at that, if a vote complicated access to the so-called ‘Emerald Aisle’.