British seed potato growers exporting to the European Union may find their business decimated after 31 December 2020, warns British Potato Trade Association (BPTA) president Sandy McGowan.
Although there may be a last-minute free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU, due to a special Annex within European Commission (EC) rules, Britain will still become a ‘third country’ in terms of potatoes.
Until a third country equivalence is granted, British seed potatoes will no longer be able access the markets in the EU – or even Northern Ireland. The market will disappear overnight.
Mr McGowan says: “There are already some such agreements, for example, Switzerland has full equivalence for seed potatoes, while Canada has a historic one for one variety that is no longer used.”
An application for third country equivalence was requested by Defra, but, because the UK had not yet left the EU, or was still in the transition period, the EC standing commission for plant health has not yet discussed it.
There are hopes it will be fast-tracked after 31 December, but approval might take two years, he notes.
Supplies of seed potatoes are usually delivered between February and May. To beat the clock, seed exporters are considering shipping everything to their buyers before the transition phase ends. This may create challenges, too.
“If we take this route we are relying on our customers having sufficient storage availability. If the stores are not so good, the quality of the potatoes may suffer.”
Planting plans for 2021 are on hold, as growers do not know whether they will be able to export.
Mr McGowan says: “If we do not export this year, other seed potato suppliers will step up, and once, lost, the market will be difficult to regain. The key is getting third country equivalence.”