Irish firms need to forensically examine supply chains

As the Brexit transition period comes to an end, the next few months will see some critical negotiations with EU state members and the UK as it prepares to leave the union on January 21st, 2021.


There are many complexities involved and while various outcomes have been discussed at length over the past few years, it is clear that Ireland will be affected, and the cost of trading will undoubtedly increase.

Indeed, Ingrid De Doncker, CEO of IDDEA, says the UK has always been a very strong trading partner for us and Brexit will have a severe impact. But while it impossible to predict exactly what will happen over the coming months and years, Irish firms should try to prepare for any eventuality.


Preparation is key

“If the negotiations of a future trade agreement cannot be reached before the end of 2020, it would mean that the UK would ‘fall off the cliff’ in 2021 in a hard Brexit scenario,” she says.

“And in time of disruption, thinking forward of the different scenarios is the most we can do – we know that the impact will be severe for Ireland and will not only affect trade, but the whole of society.

“Best Practice would advise that Supply Chain Leaders need to forensically examine the trail of any product or service they buy, from farm to fork, and map the links in that chain. In reality, this is not possible, but we should do this for the core products and services we buy and also engage with key suppliers for which the survival of our business depends on.”

It’s not too late to take action 

The expert says that negotiations are likely to pivot around finding the best solution to tariffs, goods crossing the border, large quotas, land bridge transit, barriers for service trade and regulatory divergence. Different sectors are going to be impacted differently as well so one size – of the best outcome in this case – might not fit all. And while detail is still scant around these and other issues, companies should not sit on their laurels.

“A lack of detail from negotiations is not an excuse for being underprepared when the potential change is so significant,” she advises. “Procurement can provide a competitive advantage by being proactive in risk identification, mitigation and cost optimization. And we expect underprepared organizations to suffer profitability consequences.

“By now, businesses should have identified and assessed the critical risks and created contingency plans where risks were not acceptable or impacting the growth or survival of the business.

“But if this hasn’t been done, there are still ways to mitigate the impact including: revisiting your business goals and reconfirming your product and services, listening to your customers, analysing data and prioritising key suppliers and materials, developing full transparency of supply chain links and identifying and assessing all risks and opportunities in your local chain and broadening your supply base.”

Be open to change 

Over the past few months, companies across every sector have been forced to slow down and while business is slowly returning to some sort of normality, De Doncker says companies should continue to use this time wisely and focus time, money and effort where it matters.

“We will shortly see the return of employees to work and the reopening of non-essential retail outlets, so you will need to develop new and innovative ways of working, both in your company and with your suppliers, that are compatible with social distancing.

“To prepare for this, make use of critical resources including:

IBEC’s Brexit Online Toolkit 

Building resilience into your supply base

Every Irish company needs a plan to deal with the impact on supply chains once the UK withdraws from the EU.This is the advice of Mike McGrath, managing director of specialist procurement consultancy ARVO.


“With the advent of Brexit the UK will become a third country in terms of trade with the EU,” he explains. There is a huge level of interdependence in the supply chains between the two countries, and with no Brexit deal done yet it is difficult for businesses to plan for what it will mean. It is not like Y2K, food and mouth disease or GDPR, where we had defined problems to deal with which meant businesses could prepare. Brexit is different.”


Understand your Brexit exposure

While some businesses will be less exposed than others to the impact of Brexit, he argues that every company still needs to understand it. “It is certainly the case that some sectors are more exposed, whereas IT and services are less so, as they do not have products crossing borders,” he notes.


Increased administration post Brexit

“There will be logistics issues, there will be customs declarations, there will be VAT and possibly duties, as well as a huge amount of bureaucracy to contend with,” he adds. “Businesses are busy at selling and generating profits but will have to make time for the increased administrative burden and the costs that will entail.”


Analysing your Brexit risk

McGrath warns against the concept of “Brexit fatigue”, the condition which first emerged as people became tired of the slow pace of Brexit negotiations. “Companies still need to make their own strategic arrangements and contingency plans. Every business should have a Brexit plan, whether that’s one page or 100. There is good support available from Enterprise Ireland for companies wishing to analyse their risk and regardless of the size of the business or the resources available, they should have a plan which prepares them for the worst while still hoping for the best.”


Planning for Brexit

McGrath advises businesses to go through everything, product by product, offering by offering and component by component to establish if there is a Brexit risk associated with any of them. “For example, UK suppliers won’t necessarily have a CE mark or REACH approval for chemicals anymore. You have to understand the risks and the cost implications for everything.”

Once the risk assessment has been complete, it is time to start contingency planning. “If there is to be an increase in costs, you have to ask if customers can take a price increase. Or can you reduce costs in other areas? Many Irish companies are currently going through this process.”


Supply chain

In some cases, it might be possible to secure alternative sources for products, but this may not always be possible. “The UK still has considerable strengths in particular industries, and it might not be possible to find an alternative supplier. Even if the supplies are coming from other EU countries, there could still be delays. The landbridge through Britain currently takes about 20 hours. After Brexit, that might be 40 hours and that could present problems for products with a short shelf life.”

The answer to many of these issues lies with the development of closer and better relationships with key suppliers. “We will still trade with the UK after Brexit, and if a product from the UK is unique, we will still need it. Building close relationships with suppliers and reaching formal agreements to secure future supplies is crucial.”

In cases where security of supply is an issue, there may be alternatives. “Companies need to look at their suppliers and see which are the most important and what the impact of Brexit might be on them if they can continue to supply. They might be able to find alternative suppliers elsewhere in the EU. If supplies are coming through a UK distributor, there is always the option for SMEs to come together to group buy directly from the source and bypass the Brexit risk.”

While companies may resent having to spend time on resources dealing with Brexit, McGrath contends that it is far from wasted. “Even if Brexit wasn’t happening, it is always good for a business to have the most resilient and efficient supply chain possible. Ash clouds, foot and mouth disease, Trump-inspired trade wars – these are all business risks that companies have to navigate their way through, and preparing for Brexit can only help with that.”

Mike Mc Grath has published an eBook Supplier Risks through Brexit. A copy is available here


Enterprise Ireland support


There are many supports available to Irish businesses, including Enterprise Ireland’s Act On Initiative which provides an independent consultant to analyse your business and develop a specific Brexit action plan.

Learn more about how Enterprise Ireland can support your business to strengthen its capabilities and best prepare for Brexit.


To learn more about building stability into your supplier relationships watch Mike’s webinar:  Building Resilience into your Supply Base.