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Deadlock: Much concern in EU about seed potato trade with the UK

Deadlock: Much concern in EU about seed potato trade with the UK (Courtesy: Seed export from the Netherlands | NAO)

There seems to be little hope for an imminent agreement between the EU and the UK on mutual trade in seed potatoes.

If no agreement is reached on the phytosanitary preconditions for import and export, there is a good chance that the export of seed potatoes from EU countries to the UK will be resolutely closed on 1 July.

This is what Dick Hylkema, director of the Dutch Potato Organization (NAO) fears, according to an article published by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

NAO is the trade association for companies trading in seed and ware potatoes in the Netherlands. Many of the member companies export goods both within and outside the EU, including to the United Kingdom. Brexit has therefore been high on the organization’s agenda for several years.
 

Dick Hylkema, director of the Dutch Potato Organization (NAO)

The Brexit deal concluded by the European Union and the UK in December was broadly welcomed by the Dutch agri-food sector. The business community would rather not have Brexit at all, but with the December deal, the disaster was manageable. In any case, import duties and trade quotas were canceled.

Dick Hylkema, director of NAO:
 
“However, the seed potato sector has come off poorly.”

“In one way or another, seed potatoes have fallen outside the trade agreement. In fact, there is a tough Brexit for this segment of the potato sector.”

“Free trade in seed potatoes is of vital importance, especially for breeding. That is not the case now.”

“The Netherlands, in particular, is troubled by border problems, given the size of the mutual seed potato trade.”
EU border closed

As of January 1 of this year, the European border for British seed potatoes will be closed. With a few exceptions (Switzerland, for example), the EU does not allow the import of seed potatoes from third countries. The UK has been such a third country since the beginning of this year.

Seed potatoes grown in the EU can still be released to Great Britain until 1 July 2021. It is still unclear what will happen after that date. The UK is expected to close the border to seed potatoes from the Netherlands and other EU countries.

Dutch companies have exported some 15,000 to 20,000 tons of seed potatoes to the UK in recent years. On an annual export from the Netherlands to third countries (400,000 tons) this is about 5% of the volume. Conversely, from the UK to the EU, the trade concerns about 30,000 tons per year, including to the Netherlands.

Seed potatoes in Scotland

An important part of this cultivation is concentrated in Scotland. Intensive relationships have existed for decades between the seed potato sector in the Netherlands and that in Scotland.

These ties are important for the development of new varieties and they are now in danger of being broken. A number of Dutch companies have their own offices in Scotland and their future is uncertain.

British border closed after July 1?

Companies in the EU Member States can therefore deliver to British customers until 1 July. If Brussels sticks to its import stop for British seed powder growers, the UK will lock imports after 1 July, Hylkema fears. Or the British set such high phytosanitary requirements that export is effectively impossible.

Almost all seed potato companies in the EU are affected by border problems.

Dick Hylkema:
 
“But especially the Netherlands, given the size of the mutual seed potato trade. That is why we do everything we can to get the authorities in Brussels and London moving.”
NAO lobby

The NAO is in talks with, among others, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the umbrella organization for potato trading companies Europatat, and the European agricultural organization COPA / Cogeca.

Dick Hylkema:
 
“We naturally also approach our contacts in the British potato industry. Especially from that side, the pressure on the British government must be increased.”

Disposal of seed potatoes at the grower

Mutual market access

Ultimately, it is about the willingness of both sides to reach a solution. The phytosanitary baseline situation was the same at the start of Brexit. NAO, therefore, proposes to grant reciprocal market access for a period of two to five years.

Dick Hylkema:
 
“The installation of a mechanism of continuous extension prevents the UK from gaining market access to the EU, while at the same time making the import of seed potatoes from the Netherlands and other EU countries impossible. Phytosanitary, this mechanism can keep a finger on the pulse.”

Tim Heddema

Scottish government considering its own agreement with the EU

The seed potato issue confirms that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement has not brought an end to Brexit-related negotiations. This is the opinion of Tim Heddema, Dutch agricultural council at the embassy in London.

Tim Heddema, Dutch agricultural council at the embassy in London:
 
“With the UK as a third country just outside our door and which did not want equivalence agreements (dynamic alignment), discussions continue about phytosanitary and veterinary requirements.”

“As is the case with the fish and seafood trade, for example, there is also a national political element due to Scottish interests.”

“The Scottish government has even suggested making its own agreements about seed potatoes with the EU, but the Scottish seed potato sector does not see this, partly because of legal snags.”

“They would prefer to make agreements about equivalence and at the same time work on a better domestic sales market.”
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