NI merchants cautiously optimistic about the new EU trade deal

At the end of February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced ‘The Windsor Framework: A new way forward’ as a EU trade deal breakthrough, brokered with French President Macron. As is usual with such announcements, the details are to follow shortly. On the face of it, it’s a big, good news story for the UK and Northern Ireland (NI) and it got a cautious but positive reception in GB, and in Dublin, and a mixed reception from politicians in NI. But, on the basis of what they’d read and heard, how did those directly affected, builders’ merchants in Northern Ireland see it?

To find out, MRA Research added four questions to its Builders’ Merchants Monthly Omnibus Survey on the 1st and 2nd March, immediately after the Northern Ireland Protocol & Windsor Framework was announced on 27th February. A representative sample of forty four NI builders’ merchants were asked their views on the agreement, which had been presented by the Government as a ‘new way forward for a prosperous, stable future for Northern Ireland.’

Asked how positive they were about the deal from what they’d heard so far, over half (52%) were for it. Just over one in 10 (11%) were negative, but more than a third (37%) were neither for nor against.

Asked how confident they felt that the Windsor Framework would provide the stability and certainty business was seeking, one in two merchants were confident. But one in six were not at all confident.

Half the merchants interviewed thought the EU trade deal was likely to stimulate growth in construction.

When asked about their overall response to the agreement, 54% of merchants were for it.

Half the merchants were confident that the deal would instil the stability and certainty that businesses in Northern Ireland are seeking. And more than half felt the agreement would leave their business better placed to deal with the economic challenges that lie ahead. But, 46% felt there would be no difference.

MRA Research also asked Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) Experts for their thoughts on the deal. The BMBI is a monthly index of builders’ merchant sales, and the most reliable, up-to-date measure of Repair, Maintenance, and Improvement (RMI) activity in the UK.

Mathew Whitehouse, Marketing Director at Bostik and BMBI’s Expert for Adhesives & Sealants, says: “The Windsor Framework is not quite as we were pre-Brexit, but the idea of a dedicated channel for goods only heading to NI makes absolute sense, making it so much easier and quicker with the removal of the administrative burden currently in place. Sense at last prevails, assuming it’s ratified by MPs and the devolved government in Belfast.”

BMBI’s Expert for Fasteners & Fixings, Ian Doherty, Chief Executive at Hexstone, and the Owlett-Jaton brand, disagrees: “Although we have not seen the detail of how exactly processes will change, I believe the Windsor Framework will have little impact on fastener and fixings sales to NI. The major disruption to this trade was caused by the imposition by the EU of Anti-Dumping Duties (ADD) on Chinese manufactured products. I would expect that these duties will be unchanged by the Windsor Framework and that products will still be deemed to be at risk of moving into the Republic of Ireland and therefore will be red channel.”

Kevin Morgan, Group Commercial Director of The Crystal Group and BMBI’s Expert for PVC-U Windows & Doors, says: “The new proposals solve the issue of the protocol and will reduce problematic checks and controls – for us and our industry this potentially unlocks more supplier opportunities in Northern Ireland – noticeably for Crystal-Direct it has opportunities through its bigger retail partnerships who operate in the whole of the UK with the same unified prices.”

Some BMBI Experts are waiting to see the detail of the deal before commenting while others are not greatly involved in the NI market. The report can be downloaded at https://mra-research.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/OMNIBUS-Mar-2023-MRA-Research-For-BMBI-Experts-MASTER.pdf

To add your own for-your-eyes-only questions to the Builders’ Merchants Monthly Omnibus Survey, call Yvette Kirk for details on 07918 272936 or email yvette@mra-research.co.uk

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