The UK farming unions remain concerned that the de facto ban on the export of seed potatoes into the EU and NI from Great Britain, and the import of EU seed potatoes into Great Britain, remains in place since 1 January 2021.
The effective ban on trade of seed potatoes between GB, and the EU and Northern Ireland is a result of the UK and European Commission being unable to reach an SPS agreement that would allow the reciprocal trade of seed potatoes. Pre 2021, around 30,000 tonnes of GB seed potatoes were exported each year into the EU, principally from Scotland, with a similar amount of EU seed potatoes imported into the UK.
This trade has developed and flourished because of the recognised high quality of seed potatoes grown in GB underpinned by baseline standards that UK growers continue to comply with today. Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland (in Northern England) were recognised within the European Union as a Community Grade region, applying strict health standards and producing and marketing only Pre-Basic and Basic seed potatoes.
The prohibition on the import of GB seed potatoes into the EU cannot be justified based on current plant health and marketing standards in either the EU or UK. Urgent action is needed by the EU Commission and the UK government to agree a new model to facilitate reciprocal trade in seed potatoes between GB and the EU, and Northern Ireland.
Despite repeated calls from industry to reach an agreement, the European Commission maintains the position that unless the UK agrees to dynamically align its standards with those of the EU then it is ‘high risk’ to allow imports of GB seed potatoes. However, this overlooks the fact that the UK maintains equivalent requirements for strict health standards of production and marketing of seed potatoes which are unlikely to diverge given the high standards attached to production in these areas. The Commission position also overlooks that seed potatoes are imported from a non-dynamically aligned third country where seed potatoes from Prince Edward Island, Canada are imported into the EU.
On Tuesday 30 January 2023, the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture held an ‘Exchange of views with the Commission on barriers to EU-UK agri-food trade.’ The need to reach an agreement allowing the trade of seed potatoes between the EU and the UK was called for by numerous MEPs, unfortunately the Commission repeated their previous statements that it does not allow the import of seed potatoes from third countries unless there is dynamic alignment, and that the lack of SPS checks conducted by the UK has compromised the UK’s plant health status.
Denying EU and NI potato growers access to GB seed potatoes risks unnecessarily impacting European ware producers both in terms of variety requirements and provenance. We call on the EU Commission and the UK government to urgently reach an agreement to allow trade in certified seed potatoes to and from the EU to start again.