Farming: Scotland’s seed potato growers paying high economic price
The Brexit quirk which halted Scotland’s £11 million trade in seed potatoes with continental Europe looks no closer to being resolved – and growers this week made their anger plain amid claims this key market has become a political football.
With an average of 20,000 tonnes of the highest quality seed potatoes being exported from Scotland to the EU in the past, NFU Scotland has called for urgent action from the EU Commission and the UK Government to agree a new model which would allow the trade to resume.
While the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with Europe - announced at the end of 2020 as part of the Brexit seal - allowed free trade in most agricultural products to continue, it failed to agree equivalence on seed potatoes.
This resulted in an immediate and significant prohibition on Scottish seed exports to the EU and Northern Ireland. However, the reverse trade of imports of seed potatoes from the EU to GB remain possible - with Defra permitting the importation providing they are not used for ‘marketing purposes.’
And growers have pointed out that this one-way trade has inhibited them from capturing more of the home market, to the detriment of their businesses.
Commenting on the situation after a ‘robust’ meeting with the European Commission's Directorate-General responsible for policy on food safety and health, the union’s president Martin Kennedy expressed his frustration at the attitudes of both the UK and the EU which saw them remain at loggerheads on the matter.
“And it is Scottish seed potato growers who are paying the price for an issue that is becoming increasingly political,” said Kennedy.
He said it had been made it abundantly clear that the prohibition on the import of GB seed potatoes into the EU could not be justified on current plant health and marketing standards in either the EU or UK.
He said a resolution was essential without delay to support business planning for future cropping seasons, adding that both the UK and EU had harmonised seed grades and disease tolerances which would permit reciprocal trade.
“This trade developed and flourished in the past because of the recognised high quality of seed potatoes grown on both sides of the channel.”
“In light of the looming global food security crisis, it is particularly disappointing that a resolution cannot be agreed. The high health and quality status of Scottish seed potatoes could play an important role in strengthening food production in the EU.”
On the potential for asymmetric trade, whereby seed potatoes could be approved for imports while the ban on exports remained in force, NFU Scotland Policy Manager David Michie said the union was concerned this would hamper growers from meeting the needs of theGB market.
“At this time, the UK Government is not providing any support to develop new markets that could compensate seed growers for the loss of the EU market following the implementation of their Brexit deal. NFU Scotland thinks it is only fair that they do more,” said Michie.
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