An application to allow the resumption of British seed potato exports to Europe will be discussed at a European Commission committee today and tomorrow.
The application was made by the UK Government in response to the Brexit trade deal not including third-country equivalence for seed potatoes.
This is the mechanism whereby the European Commission decides whether a non-EU country’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime is equivalent to its own.
Failure to secure the equivalence status put an end to all GB seed potato exports to Northern Ireland and Europe – the trade is worth around £10 million, with a combined volume of about 22,000 tonnes exported annually.
Patrick Hughes, head of export trade development for potatoes at levy body AHDB, said the application was being discussed by the European Commission’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed.
Speaking at a press briefing for the SAC Association of Potato Producer’s annual conference, he said the industry was working hard to get the issue resolved ahead of growers having to decide what varieties to plant for the season ahead.
He said growers who export to Europe were urging their customers to lobby the European Commission to approve the application.
“We don’t think there is going to be a vote at the standing committee but hopefully from that there will be a subsequent meeting next month where we hope that a vote will take place,” added Mr Hughes.
“We are hoping that towards the end of February the certainty will come. All we can hope is that we get some clarity by then.”
He said that if the application is unsuccessful, it was hoped British seed growers would be able to supply the domestic market instead.
“We already export around 35,000 tonnes of European seed to the UK every year,” added Mr Hughes.
“I would say that the industry will be looking for the loss of the European market to be solved by demand from the UK.”
Meanwhile, potato industry commentator Cedric Porter said “the love of the spud” had increased during the pandemic.
He said: “The reduction in food-service use (of potatoes) was not large enough to offset an overall increase in more potatoes bought for home use.”
Mr Porter called on the potato industry to capitalise on this boost in sales and said: “Perhaps growers should be questioning if now is the time to double up their efforts on marketing.
“We have seen a decline over the last few years in potato consumption. But people have hopefully found that they are good value and they are versatile.”