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Brexit: Seed potatoes at EU crossroads

Patrick Hughes, Head of Export Trade Development for Potatoes at AHDB

Earlier this week the seed potato sector received the disheartening news that the European Commission has decided not to progress the case for seed potato equivalence, under Article 44 of the Plant Health Regulation.

Unfortunately, the news has come at a time when the sector was seeking a rapid resolution to the EU prohibition to provide growers with the confidence to finalise their planting arrangements for the forthcoming season.

Within the latest rejection for the seed potato sector, the EU confirmed that they would not consider the request as the UK are not 'dynamically aligned' in the same way as other countries with third-country equivalence, such as Switzerland. This is essentially the same response provided in response to the case considered last year.

Defra remains committed and will continue to raise this issue with the EU, to ensure this vital trade continues at the earliest opportunity. However, it is now likely that dialogue through official channels will run on and on for several months, leading to the remaining exports destined for the EU not reaching their destination in time for planting.

It equally does not provide UK growers with any certainty when making planting decisions, as the likelihood of a resolution in the short to medium term is diminishing by the day. The decision also poses a risk to the entire European potato sector by shutting off a high-grade production area that they may come to rely on should the European crop suffer disease issues.

It is inevitable that attention will turn to what decisions will be made once the temporary extension of EU seed potato imports into the UK runs out at the end of June. It might seem logical to look at a reciprocal prohibition as the volumes are moderately similar.

However, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration such as the difference between the varieties imported and those varieties exported. Therefore, a balanced conversation needs to take place before any decisions are made.

What remains certain is there will be further twists and turns in the equivalence quest and it appears a final decision is still a long way away.
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