Potato seed and ware exports from the UK could be interrupted in a Brexit no deal scenario and there are signs that seed potato growers are looking to export potatoes before the transition period ends on December 31.
Failure to agree a deal would mean the UK would become a ‘third country’ in trade terms and would need to apply to the EU to get ‘third country equivalence’ whereby the EU would recognise standards and protocols operating in the UK, allowing trade to continue.
Patrick Hughes, AHDB head of export trade development – potatoes, explains: “At the moment we don’t have third country equivalence and if there is no deal, it will not be in the offing straightaway. This would stop all exports of potatoes to the EU – both seed and ware.”
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, seed and ware potatoes entering Northern Ireland from the UK would also need third country equivalence which would stop Ireland from becoming a market with trade of seed and ware to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland ceasing as of December 31. “The caveat is that the British Government is putting through a new bill [The Internal Market Bill] and things could change quickly in the weeks to come,” says Mr Hughes.
Currently 20,000 tonnes of seed potatoes are exported annually from the UK to the EU and 35,000 tonnes are imported to the UK from the EU. “Defra has indicated that in the case of seed exports to the EU, if they were stopped it would reciprocate and not allow EU seed potatoes to come into the UK, but for ware potatoes we don’t yet know the situation.
“It is quite an alarming prospect at the moment and I am not sure all the industry is aware of the potential scenarios.
“Some seed potato growers are trying to get potatoes into the EU market prior to December 31 when they would normally send them in February or March.”
This strategy could be more difficult to emulate with ware potatoes though, says Mr Hughes. “There are bigger issues concerning storage with ware and they may not be able to do it before December 31.”
Sandy McGowan, President of the British Potato Trade Association and manager at seed potato exporter Cygnet PEP says: “The situation is very uncertain. There is no reason why a derogation could not have been granted to see us through until June 2021. Instead we have to plan to have all our seed potatoes shipped by the end of the year which adds cost, stress and hassle.”
AHDB is planning to host webinars on how Brexit will affect the UK potato trade on November 3 and 4, says Mr Hughes. “Hopefully we will have more clarity by then on the situation but it will still allow time for the industry to react.”