EU exit policy changes affecting potato trade with Ireland and Northern Ireland

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Upon the 31 December 2020, the UK transition period for leaving the European Union (EU) will end, paving the way for new trading arrangements. Consequently, the way Great Britain (GB) exports to both Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) will change, irrespective of the deal negotiations outcome. Also, the UK has not yet been granted third country equivalence, which means that exports of fresh potatoes from the UK face regulatory barriers halting trade.

This article endeavours to cover the key policies that will affect trade with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is a second article looking more specifically at trade with the Republic of Ireland.

What is the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol?

As part of the NI Protocol, NI will continue to follow the EU’s customs rules, preventing a need for a physical border and checks of goods moving between NI and the ROI. But this means checks on certain goods moving between GB and NI will now be required. This is to ensure VAT and tariffs are paid and EU standards are met for anything that may move into the ROI.  This will essentially create a regulatory and customs border across the Irish Sea. Dependent on the outcome of EU exit talks, goods “at risk” of moving from NI to the ROI may be faced with a tariff to be paid and refunded should the goods stay in NI. The UK Government has agreed unfettered access from NI to GB for all goods.

Megan Hesketh


On Thursday 10 December the government published the December Northern Ireland Protocol command paper. Within this paper there are two clauses referring to movement of pre-packaged products for retail sale solely in Northern Ireland via “authorised traders” such as supermarkets and their trusted suppliers. Within clause 33 it states that such goods would be subject to a grace period, through to 1 April 2021.

However, on 16 December, the government has confirmed that from the 1 January 2021, you cannot export or move prohibited commodities, including GB high-risk plants, seed potatoes and ware potatoes to the EU or Northern Ireland. These prohibitions fall into 3 categories: high-risk plants, seed and other propagating materials and prohibited plants. For more information on the Gov website, follow this link.

Therefore if the UK is not granted third country equivalence before the 1 January 2021, seed or ware potatoes will not be able to move into Northern Ireland. See “Phytosanitary regulations, what do we need to know?”.

What is the Internal Market Bill?

The Internal Market Bill is designed to maintain the single internal UK market into UK law at the end of the transition period; the Bill is based on ensuring mutual recognition and non-discrimination, as explained by my colleague, Sarah Baker. This has important implications on the NI Protocol, as the bill gives the requirement to modify EU rules under a no-deal scenario and prevents the introduction of new government checks or processes on goods moving from NI to GB, unless required to facilitate market access. Though, this Bill has been met with contests both from the EU as a violation of International Law and by the devolved nations that believe this may undermine their own devolved responsibilities, and continues to be discussed in Parliament.

Phytosanitary regulations, what do we need to know?

As it currently stands, the UK has not been granted third country equivalence. The EU Plant Health Regulation (EU) 2016/2031 currently excludes the import of potatoes into member states from all “third countries”, other than those specifically listed within these regulations. Therefore, exports of potatoes from GB to the EU will, unless the goods are already in transit, not be allowed after the end of the transition period.

It is key to note here that from a plant health perspective, the island of Ireland is classed as a single phytosanitary zone so this will affect exports to NI too. (See additional note 16 December - important update in the "What is the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol?" section.)

If third country equivalence is granted in the coming weeks, from the 1 January 2021 phytosanitary certificates will be necessary for all GB exports of fresh potatoes to the EU, alongside a customs declaration for all goods. The phytosanitary certificate will require an application for inspection or testing of your potatoes to be granted a plant health certificate. Subsequent costs will be incurred by you (the exporter) but if granted, you will receive the certificate in 7 days. For seed potatoes, you may not need a certificate if you are part of the Seed Potato Certification Scheme but you will need to contact the APHA to find out. For more about phytosanitary certificates, visit the government website.

Defra, on behalf of the UK, have submitted an application to the European Commission for third country equivalence for certification of seed and other propagating material and to address related plant health issues concerned with existing prohibitions on seed and ware potatoes from third countries. This would ensure exports continue as now.

However, the European Commission has informed the UK Government that they will not consider this application before the ongoing withdrawal negotiations have been completed.

Europatat (Eurpoean Potato Trade Association) have also contacted EU officials requesting that the UK is included on the list of expemt third countries from which the EU can import seed and ware potatoes.

How can we prepare when the outcome of negotiations is not decided?

What we do know is on the 1 January, regulations will change the way that potatoes move to both NI and the ROI. Awareness of potential tariffs, alongside the requirement to fulfil phytosanitary certification to export across the Irish Sea is knowledge we can use to prepare.

Carefully planning logistical operations and exports needs to be done to ensure full compliance with the new rules coming into force on 1 January 2021.

As part of that planning process you can apply for a UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number. Your business (as an exporter) will need this from 1 January 2021 regardless of trade negotiations outcome. You can also look into agents to make declarations on your behalf and gain understanding on what these declarations are.

The state of play is changing all the time, so keep an eye on information coming from the government to understand these changes. We will also endeavour to inform the industry of negotiation progress when relevant.

Additional information

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