‘Third way’ effort to break deadlock over seed potatoes

A ‘third way’ to break the current political deadlock, which has resulted in the sale of Scottish seed potatoes to the continent being halted, has been put out for an informal consultation to gauge the level of industry support.

Earlier this week the science agency SASA, wrote to growers and members of the trade to float the idea of a ‘Scotland-specific’ agreement with the EU which could re-open the doors to the continent through a commitment to align with parts of EU legislation.

The current ban on the trade, worth over £13 million, was a result of the UK/EU trade agreement which, while allowing trade in food and agricultural products to continue tariff free, excluded the marketing of seedstocks (including seed potatoes) for growing in other countries - and under the Northern Ireland protocol, sales to that region were also prohibited.

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But while the UK delivered a six month derogation to allow seed potatoes to continue to come into the UK from the rest of Europe, the EU took a hard line and stopped trade going the other way when the Brexit transition period ended on Dec 31.

And although Defra lodged an immediate application to gain ‘equivalence’ for Scottish and UK grown seed which could have allowed the market to reopen, the application was kicked into touch by European Commission committee which argued dynamic alignment with EU phytosanitary rules was required for the trade to continue.

The Scottish Government like the Scottish seed potato sector, expressed its bitter disappointment at this outcome and said it would make it a priority to work with the UK Government and the EU to get the prohibition lifted if possible.

The sector has been keen to see work continuing with Defra to explore all possible avenues to reopen the EU and NI markets, but as this looks set to be a lengthy process there has been a growing clamour for a reciprocal ban to be placed on seed imported from the continent after the current arrangement ends in June.

This would allow Scottish growers to offset/mitigate the loss of the EU and NI markets by focusing on a self-contained GB market which already accounts for the majority of Scottish seed sales.

However some growers have expressed support for a special Scotland deal which might allow what looks set to be a protracted political battle to be circumvented, allowing trade to recommence more quickly.

Urging growers to respond to the consultation which closes on March 19, seed grower and exporter Andrew Skea said that while some in the industry were suspicious that the Scottish Government might be seeking to make political capital out of the proposal, it would be a mistake to reject the idea without investigating the possibilities further:

“It would be short-sighted to dismiss the idea out of hand,” said Skea, a past president of the British Potato Trade Association “and without strong backing from the industry it’s unlikely that such an approach would make any headway.”