Swift solution needed to EU seed potato trade threat

A leading Scottish breeder/exporter of seed potatoes has warned that it is imperative that the “manifest injustice” of the ban on sales of the crop into EU countries is addressed in a matter of weeks.

While the political row over the prohibition on the sale of Scottish seed potatoes to EU countries under the UK/EU trade deal hammered out before Christmas rumbles on, Robert Doig, director at potato seed breeder, Caledonia Potatoes, has warned that any settlement has to be finalised very swiftly to ensure seed growers can adapt their cropping plans to grow the right varieties for ware producers to plant in the 2022 cropping season.

While still in the EU, the UK exported in the order of 30,000t of seed to mainland Europe each year, around 20,000 tonnes of which was grown in Scotland - with sales worth an estimated £13.5m.

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However, while some in the trade believe that the ban on the sale to the EU is a temporary issue which will be simple to rectify, Doig yesterday told The Scotsman that the UK’s vociferous objection to “dynamic alignment” with EU regulations was likely to represent a significant barrier to any easy solution.

And he believes that as this issue strikes at the heart of the difficulties which surrounded the deal, it is unlikely that EU will ever give permission for GB seed exports:

“I don’t think we will get a permanent free trade deal for the sector, certainly not in the short-term. It’s not the case that because we have exported for years we can simply sign off a new deal - it is not that simple.”

Doig said that the only country from which the EU allowed the importation of seed potatoes was Switzerland –which was fully dynamically aligned with EU regulations.

But he said that while the UK continued to allow seed grown in the EU to be imported for this season’s crop, it would be morally wrong to allow such a one-way trade to continue in future years:

“We have already given the EU a derogation to export seed potatoes into the UK this spring, clearly there is a manifest injustice in that. So, something has to change, either we need to be able to export the EU or they are not allowed to send seed potatoes to the UK.

“And if the UK does decide to address this iniquity then it is imperative that we know what is happening over the next few weeks to ensure that the seed crop going into the ground this spring will be of the right varieties.”

If a reciprocal ban was introduced then Doig said seed growers would need to alter their cropping plans to ensure that there was sufficient seed of UK-preferred varieties to supply the requirements of the home market:

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“The seed market doesn’t operate like a factory – we can’t simply shift to producing something different at the drop of a hat - once the seed crops are in the ground, the die has been cast.”