As the dust settles on the Brexit trade deal, the potato sector is coming to terms with its mixed fortunes.
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 means the EU will recognise the UK’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime as equivalent to its own. New administration and inspection procedures will be required but this is a small sacrifice for continued market access.
Unfortunately, the EU also confirmed it will not accept the case for a permanent change to the prohibition on seed potatoes. This 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, 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 worked to ensure their 2021 orders were delivered in the last few weeks of 2020.
The latest indications are that 90% of anticipated orders were fulfilled by December 31, but several exporters exported significantly less than that 90% of their anticipated orders.
The UK Government has given the EU a derogation to import seed potatoes into the UK until June 30 2021. We are collaborating across industry to ask EU officials to reciprocate, so GB seed exporters have the ability to complete the 2020-21 export season.
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 Brexit has taken up a lot of business attention, exports continued to non-EU destinations, with more than 70,000 tonnes exported by the end of November 2020. The seed sector was also buoyed by the recent trade deals with Egypt and Morocco – important export markets.
Work now begins to make sure 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.
- Patrick Hughes is head of export trade development for potatoes at levy body AHDB.