Discussions have been ongoing with the European Commission on the subject of third country equivalence for plant reproductive material, plant health prohibitions and changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
As it stands, the UK has not been granted full third country equivalence, but the EU has voted to lift a number of plant health prohibitions according to a statement from AHDB.
The EU have voted in the PAFF (Plants, Animals, Feed and Food) committee on lifting the prohibition on ware potatoes for export to the EU and Northern Ireland. This allows the export of ware potatoes from the UK to the EU and from GB to Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021.
Seed potatoes fall under a different category than ware potatoes and exports of seed potatoes will not be possible from the UK to the EU or from GB to Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021. The EU has confirmed that they will not accept the case for a permanent change to the prohibition on seed potatoes. This is on the grounds that there is no agreement for GB to be dynamically aligned with EU rules in the same way that Switzerland is. Discussions on the third country equivalence will remain open, but nothing is expected to happen until later in 2021.
As an EU member state, Britain has exported 30,000t of seed to mainland Europe each winter, around 20,000 tonnes of that was grown in Scotland worth £13.5m.
Robert Doig, Director at potato seed breeder Caledonia Potatoes said that he thinks it is unlikely that EU would ever give permission for GB seed exports, “I don’t think we will gain entry, certainly not in the short-term. It is not the case that because we have exported for years its just case of signing off on it, it is not that simple.
“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.
“We need some clarity on this very quickly because if the UK growers are going to supply the UK market with all of its seed potatoes in 2022, which is as soon as we can talk about just now, they need to start making the adjustments right now for planting in spring 2021.”
A continuity trade deal with Egypt should still protect the single largest market for British exports. The UK also supplies seed potatoes to Israel, Morocco, Canary Islands, among others and there appears to be continuation agreements in place for these markets.
Robert says he did manage to get as much as 80% of this season’s seed into the EU market before the new year but there are varieties which are in development which were supposed to go to the EU for trials which can no longer be exported. This will be one of the big challenges for the breeders as investment in new varieties is a major cost.
“We are already having to double up on registration fees, we can’t afford to double up on trial and development costs, it is already a high risk, high investment business. Unless we are sure that we can export to the EU in the future it’s just not feasible to invest in varieties for that market.”