By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor, British Agriculture Bureau
The derogation allowing the import of EU seed potatoes into GB ended on the 30 June 2021, meaning that it is now prohibited to import EU seed potatoes into GB. A similar prohibition on the export of GB seed potatoes to the EU and Northern Ireland has been 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 imported each year into the EU, principally from Scotland, with a similar amount of EU seed potatoes exported to 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. The prohibition on the import of GB seed potatoes into the EU cannot be justified on the basis of current plant health and marketing standards in either the EU or UK. Urgent action is needed by the EU Commission to agree a new model for two-way trade in seed potatoes between GB and the EU, and Northern Ireland.
Recognising the Commission’s concerns, BAB pulled together industry organisations representing the potato sector across Europe who together proposed to the Commission a rolling two-year derogation for trade and marketing of seed potatoes which could be retracted in the event that a party does not maintain its commitment to the baseline standard. We believe that powers granted to the Commission in Article 44 of the EU Plant Health Regulation 2016/2031 could provide the basis for this mechanism. All trade in seed potatoes between the parties would be subject to phytosanitary certificates and other plant health requirements.
The Commission’s argument is that unless the UK agrees to dynamically align its standards with those of the EU then it is too ‘risky’ to allow imports of GB seed. However, this overlooks the fact Scotland, Cumbria and Northumberland 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. Nothing has changed and nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future given the high standards attached to production in these areas. The need for dynamic alignment was again reiterated by the European Commission at a recent Copa Brexit Taskforce meeting where the French, Dutch, Irish and BAB all called for a new agreement to be reached.