EU Exit Perspectives: Seed potato sector needs rapid resolution

Friday, 15 January 2021

In this week’s blog, AHDB’s head of export trade development for potatoes Patrick Hughes examines the issues around gaining third country listed status for seed potatoes and what the industry might do if a resolution is not reached.

As the dust settles on the Brexit trade deal the potato sector is coming to terms with its mixed fortunes. While the agri-food sector in general can celebrate the fact we have secured a trade deal, given the alternative, the deal does not cover everything. ‘Sensitive products’ need to secure separate technical listings to continue to trade with the EU and Northern Ireland. While these were achieved for some products before the end of the transition, others were not, meaning this trade is effectively banned.

The news that ware potatoes have been awarded third country listed status and trade into the EU and Northern Ireland will continue is welcome. This essentially means that that the European Commission will recognise the UK’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime as equivalent to its own. Essential new administration and inspection procedures will be required but this is a small sacrifice for continued market access. 

Unfortunately, the EU also confirmed they will not accept the case for a permanent change to the prohibition on seed potatoes. The resulting split between the UK and EU on these rules also means that in addition to EU exports, the movement of seed potatoes from GB to Northern Ireland is banned.

This is not insignificant. Seed potatoes into the EU and Northern Ireland are worth around £10 million for the industry, with a combined volume of about 22,000 tonnes exported annually.

On the bright side, the industry was prepared for this issue. Most, if not all, seed exporters had been working with their EU-based customers to ensure their 2021 orders were delivered in the last few weeks of 2020 to avoid a non-supply issue. The latest indications from seed potato exporters are that 90 per cent of anticipated orders were fulfilled in advance of 31 December as a result. However there are several exporters that managed to export significantly less than that 90 per cent of their anticipated orders.

The UK Government has given the EU a derogation to import seed potatoes into the UK until 30 June 2021. We are collaborating across industry to ask EU officials to reciprocate, so that GB seed exporters have the ability to complete the 2020/21 export season in line with this. But even if that happens, future access to the EU market would be required for GB growers, breeders and trade to continue to plan ahead with confidence.

It’s worth remembering while EU exit has taken up a lot of business attention, exports continued to non-EU destinations, with over 70,000 tonnes exported by the end of November 2020 – much in line with forecasted activity. The seed sector was also buoyed by the recent trade deals with Egypt and Morocco, resulting in the continued trade with these important export markets.

Work now begins to make sure that the 2022 orders for the EU remain unaffected and in the absence of third country equivalence, growers may look to relocate UK planting destined for EU markets into EU growing areas. Planting decisions will be finalised at the end of February, at which point growers need to be confident about putting market-specific varieties in the ground. It is therefore critical for the sector that we reach a rapid resolution.

For more, see an AHDB briefing on future trade of potato products or view our webinars, Imports of plants and plant products EU-GB and Exports of plants and plant products GB-EU.

Image of staff member Patrick Hughes

Patrick Hughes

Head of Export Trade Development - Potatoes