This Christmas Eve, businesses and representative bodies have been reacting to the news that agreement has been reached between negotiators on a Brexit trade agreement between the EU and UK.

John McGrane, Director General of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce said that businesses in Ireland and across the UK can breathe "a collective sigh of relief" today.

Mr McGrane said the new trade agreement will help to protect nearly €90bn in trade across the Irish Sea and sustain 400,000 jobs on these islands.

"The limited deal between the EU and UK is to be welcomed as it removes the threat of new tariffs and ensures a strong trading partnership is maintained from January 1st.

"This agreement also provides businesses with the certainty they need," he said.

Mr McGrane said that although the agreement protects the free trade of goods, businesses still face increased costs and delays and disruption in areas such as financial services amongst others.

"This will add new costs to businesses at a time when they are looking to recover from the ever growing impacts of Covid-19," he said.

'The news comes as a relief to exporters and importers'

The CEO of the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) Simon McKeever has said the news today will come as a relief to exporters and importers on both sides, that were facing the prospect of operating under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules with the imposition of tariffs and quotas on EU and UK goods.

The CEO of the representative body for exporters in Ireland, has warned that while reaching a deal is significant, it does not change the fact that customs and SPS checks will be applied from 1st January 2021.

Mr McKeever said that substantial changes will be evident a week from Friday, and Irish exporters and importers must stay on track and make the necessary preparations to successfully trade with a non-EU country.

"The Irish business community held out hope that a deal would eventually be agreed, and I would like to commend all involved in getting this long awaiting agreement over the line.

"Irish exporters, that have operated under turbulent and uncertain conditions for some time, will breathe a sigh of relief that a no-deal Brexit has been avoided.

"Today's announcement means that Irish exporters and importers will not have to operate under cumbersome and very expensive WTO rules, however there will still be changes and increased costs to trade and I want to make sure that businesses are not blind sighted by today’s important announcement and disregard preparations already made.

"Customs and SPS checks will still take place and businesses must be ready," he warned.

Brexit trade deal 'a welcome relief' for Irish business

Ibec, the group that represents Irish business, has welcomed the announcement of the Brexit trade deal which has come as a major relief to Irish business.

Ibec CEO Danny McCoy said that after nearly 50 years of UK membership of the EU, these negotiations were always going to be prolonged and difficult.

"In this context the deal announced, which delivers tariff free trade, must be welcomed.

"It is a major relief for Irish businesses exporting to the UK that the threat of about €2 billion annual tariffs has now been removed.

"Today's deal also provides a strong platform for a future positive economic relationship between the EU and the UK," he said.

However, Mr McCoy said the trading conditions for Irish business with our nearest neighbour will be very different, involving complex customs procedures and more costly transport options.

"New arrangements with the UK will also impact on services trade and there is much that still remains to clarified.

"The transition period has been eroded by protracted negotiations, leaving little time for business to adjust to the new arrangements announced today," he said.

Mr McCoy said that Ibec will continue to work with strategic business partners in the EU and in the UK to ensure that supply chains adapt as quickly as possible and Irish business continues to serve its customers and support jobs in an already challenging trading environment.

'Cautious welcome for trade deal from NI food industry'

Northern Ireland food and drink industry leaders have cautiously welcomed the free trade agreement reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union, as the Brexit transition period comes to an end.

Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) Chair Nick Whelan said that, while preferable to a no-deal scenario, there is still clarity needed around bureaucracy and dispute resolution.

"For the past four years the Northern Ireland food and drink industry has warned consistently of the dangers of any Brexit outcome that would increase barriers to trade or disrupt supply chains north-south or east-west.

"The agri-food industry on these islands is highly integrated, and anything less than frictionless trade between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland will add costs and reduce choice to the consumer, and ultimately cost livelihoods.

"As was the case when the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed, this deal is welcome insofar as it takes us from the cliff edge - but it is far from perfect, and we still need clarity on a number of key areas.  

"If the Northern Ireland protocol is to be durable, the UK and EU will need to address the challenges to local consumers of reduced choice and increased cost as a result of new administrative burdens on GB NI trade," said Mr Whelan.

Food Drink Ireland welcomes Brexit trade deal 

Food Drink Ireland (FDI), the Ibec group representing the food and drink sector, has also welcomed the agreement reached.

Paul Kelly, FDI Director said he welcomes the fact that "disastrous" tariffs have been avoided, but he said the agreement reached is still very much a hard Brexit.

"Food and drink companies will face substantial non-tariff barriers to trade between Ireland and Great Britain with customs, SPS and other food safety requirements in a few days' time. 

"This will lead to substantial ongoing costs which will have to be absorbed not just by the food supply chain but by consumers as well.

"Reaching agreement on measures to ease and facilitate customs and SPS requirements should now be a priority for both sides.

"This is the only way to reduce trade friction and limit the costs passed onto the food chain and the consumer," he said.

FDI is now also calling for measures to support Irish food and drink companies maintain their valuable UK market position and diversify into new markets, including; a state backed export credit insurance scheme, increased investment in innovation, skills, enabling technologies and market development.

FDI said it believes that the EU’s €5bn Brexit Adjustment Fund must be utilised to support the most exposed sector in the most exposed country in addition to domestic funding from the Government’s Brexit Contingency Fund.

Institute of Directors in Ireland welcomes confirmation of trade deal

Welcoming news of the agreement, Maura Quinn, Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Ireland, said those who have been at the centre of the negotiations are to be commended for their "tenacity and diplomacy".

However, she said there remains continued "uncertainty" resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the significant damage that has been inflicted on the economy.

"This post-Brexit agreement, if signed off by both parliaments, will at least bring some level of certainty to the looming threat that has existed since the UK referendum in June 2016."

"In practical terms, there will still be enormous challenges for Irish business in adjusting to the new reality of the post-Brexit era," said Ms Quinn.