COVID-19 Emergency Working Group

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 27 May 2020 Issues covered: Coronavirus

The NI CBI Covid-19 Emergency working group meets regularly to discuss matters relating to the Coronavirus pandemic for NI Employers.  The notes below are from the most recent meeting.

CBI Covid19 Emergency Working Group Notes May 21st, 5pm

Members heard from CBI’s Head of Trade, Jonathan Brenton, notes included below (took up more time than expected) - so Covid discussion reduced.

COVID-19 General

  • Waiting on details for the new JRS scheme, keen to get back to work with flexibility as soon as possible.
  • Absenteeism levelled off

Agri-Food Sector

  • Demand normalising.
  • Orders decent level.
  • A hard exit from the EU poses real challenges for poultry on top of Covid – need to push for speed on deals – no gap between EU international deals and UK ones being signed. Need time to implement new deals. Trade continuity is critical.

Grocery Distribution

  • One member reported an employee tested positive in their GB plant, - very disruptive. Had to cancel the shift pattern, has really impacted on mood within the plant in terms of safety. Had to take the decision to close the canteen again and spend a lot of time reassuring employees.
  • Continued testing will be very important.


  • Increased activity. Trying to improve level of customer interaction
  • Ongoing preparation for returns to “normality” – looking to Executive for guidance.

Connectivity / Aviation

  • Uptake in inquiries around business travel
  • Flight prices to GB are very cost prohibitive – average flight to London £470 return.
  • Connectivity with GB very important to construction and other sectors.
  • Aviation Sector’s Restart and Recovery group, looking at APD, Quarantine, International Collaboration around airports.

CBI Overview - International Trade

  • Looking at China coming out of lockdown, but still held back by lack of demand and fears of virus coming back, financial crisis brought countries together, COVID has pulled them apart because of protection measures
  • The fear of return of protectionism is considerable e.g. Turkey has started imposing tariffs in other areas than health productions
  • China-US division is particularly worrying
  • CBI has been working to keep trade flowing e.g. interventions for RoRo Ferries, trade facilitations through electronic customs declarations and recent announcement on trade credit insurance following CBI lobbying
  • Internationally we have been looking at unlocking obstacles in external markets – for example, CBI Delhi team working hard against Pharma trade restrictions in India
  • Biggest priority for the CBI team is continuity of trade –also consider Brexit impact too
  • In terms of what is happening now – DIT need to see deals done / political pressure - with Japan and Mexico for example.
  • Need to complete Japan negotiations by end July to have a chance of meeting end of year deadline, DIT want to expand scope for UK business travel with Japan as part of the deal and we are actively looking for member engagement and case studies on this (see attached questionnaires)
  • US deal moving at pace, US will push hard, risk going for an early deal for sake of it (political pressure if Brexit goes badly) and not getting a good deal
  • Officials are aware US deal will not compensate for lack of an EU deal, but Ministers may see things differently
  • CBI have been pressing DIT on the need to co-ordinate strategy between EU and US deals, we are concerned at lack of formal structure to broker any clashing objectives, however, we do know the Whitehall negotiators are talking
  • We need to continue to engage with China but not naively, - China is the fourth largest market in terms of bilateral trade volume after EU27, US and Germany
  • Canada deal ready to be done, but Canada watching UK tariff schedule closely given the previous experience with the UK no deal tariff schedule. New UK global tariff should give greater incentive for a deal.
  • Wider commonwealth deals unlikely to happen for the next few years. UK has limited bandwidth and targets as set out in conservative manifesto: US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand
  • Time limits and “de facto” EU status with transition does pose a problem with roll over deals, pressure is on the UK to get those deals done as UK will lose deals once transition period ends unless UK has fixed bilateral deals
  • In terms of our own influence CBI will be holding the B7 in line with UK’s G7 chair next year

Member input on International trade discussion

  • Trade continuity is critical – not just for finished product but intermediate goods too.
  • Want to see NI continuing with EU deals until UK deals are struck
  • Want to see greater effort put in in rolling over existing deals to secure some form of continuity
  • Concern that Emerging Market sales have been developed over recent years but are not on UK priority list for trade deals. Considered vital for growth
  • One member queried whether we would see any emergence of commonwealth deals – CBI view, Trade negotiation capacity not sufficient to produce Commonwealth deals soon.
  • Pace is everything in International trade, a deal is the headline, but understanding the conditions around follow-up approvals and customer approvals could take many months.
  • Implementation time essential
  • Much easier to do the deal than deliver the trade flows after.
This article is correct at 27/05/2020

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