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Seed potato trade talks hit a brick wall

SEEDS OF DISSENT: Scottish farmers want a breakthrough in trade talks for their seed potatoes.

The latest attempts by Scottish farming leaders to argue for the resumption of tattie seed exports to Europe have hit a brick wall.

A delegation from NFU Scotland (NFUS) met officials from DG Sante – the European Commission’s directorate-general responsible for policy on food safety and health – in Brussels, but after the “robust” meeting, union president Martin Kennedy said the UK and EU remain at loggerheads.

The issue is a direct consequence of the Brexit trade and co-operation agreement which saw the annual export of around 20,000 tonnes of Scottish high health seed potatoes to Europe stop. The trade was worth almost £11 million.

Meanwhile, Defra has permitted imports of seed potatoes from the EU to GB, providing they are not used for “marketing purposes”.

Martin Kennedy is NFUS president.
Martin Kennedy is NFUS president.

Mr Kennedy said: “The deadlock on the trade of seed potatoes from GB to the EU and Northern Ireland continues to cause huge amounts of anger for growers.

“It is Scottish seed potato growers who are paying the price for an issue that is becoming increasingly political.”

He said the delegation had made it “abundantly clear” to officials that the ban on the import of GB seed potatoes into the EU can’t be justified based on current plant health and marketing standards.

He added: “Urgent action is now needed by the EU Commission and the UK Government to agree a new model for two-way trade between GB and the EU, and Northern Ireland.

“This is essential and must be agreed without delay to support business planning for future cropping seasons. Both the UK and EU have harmonised seed grades and disease tolerances which would permit reciprocal trade.

“This trade developed and flourished in the past because of the recognised high quality of seed potatoes grown on both sides of the Channel.

“In light of the looming global food security crisis, it is particularly disappointing that a resolution cannot be agreed. The high health and quality status of Scottish seed potatoes could play an important role in strengthening food production in the EU.”

The union’s policy manager, David Michie added: “We are aware that Defra are reviewing requests from Denmark and France to allow importations of their seed potatoes to GB. NFUS is concerned this has the potential to further push back the development of the GB market.

“At this time, the UK Government is not providing any support to develop new markets that could compensate seed growers for the loss of the EU market following the implementation of their Brexit deal.

“NFUS thinks it is only fair that they do more.”

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