The National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland has welcomed the decision taken by Defra to end the six-month authorisation that had allowed imports of seed potatoes from Europe (EU) to Great Britain (GB) at a time when exports from GB to EU were not permitted.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Europe, announced at the end of 2020, failed to agree equivalence on seed potatoes, resulting in significant prohibitions on Scottish seed exports to the EU and, by extension, Northern Ireland.

The consequence for growers was immediate and grave according to NFU Scotland.

As an EU Member State, Britain exported around 30,000t of seed potatoes, worth £13.5 million, to mainland Europe each year and the majority of these were high-health stocks grown in Scotland.

When the UK exited the EU, the UK government granted a 6-month extension that allowed the import of EU seed potatoes to GB.

That extension expired on June 30, 2021 and has not been renewed.

The UK government has previously applied for equivalence on seed potatoes, and this application has been rejected.

The union hopes the decision taken by the UK government not to extend authorisation to EU seed imports will bring fresh impetus to talks that will agree equivalence and allow Scottish seed potato exports to resume.

Extension had potential to ‘devastate’ industry

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Potatoes working group, Mike Wilson said:

“We are delighted that the principle of seed potato trade between the EU and GB having to go ‘both ways or no-ways’ has been upheld by Defra.

Extending the authorisation for a further six months had the potential to devastate Scotland’s seed potato industry, impacting many of our members’ businesses and Scotland’s rural economy.

“We welcome that the UK government’s allowance for EU seed potatoes to be sold to GB has now officially been ended.

“This means that potato growers throughout Britain will have to source their seed from within Britain, which is good news for Scotland’s seed potato sector.

“The GB market is quite different from the EU market, so the potato sector has quite a task on its hands to develop and supply this internal market.

In the meantime, NFU Scotland will be working with the government and our European counterparts to regain access to the EU market.

“This will not be an easy task as the EU Commission has made it very clear on several occasions that the seed potato trade is a casualty of Brexit.”