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How Scottish seed potato exports to the EU got left behind by Brexit

Sandy McGowan of Milnathort-based Cygnet PEP, reveals the cost to the seed potato industry of being denied third country status by the EU. Clare Johnston reports for The Courier.

While all eyes have been on arrangements for fishing and livestock exports in the Brexit trade negotiations, few spared a thought for the humble seed potato.

This seldom-discussed but valuable Scottish product has not made the list of food exports continuing to the EU having been denied third-country equivalence – the process whereby the European Commission decides whether a non-EU country’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime is equivalent to its own.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said in a series of Tweets that around 20,000 tonnes of potato seed is sold to the EU by Scotland – a fifth of all UK seed potato exports. The trade value is estimated to be in the region of £4.5-£5 million.

Potato seeds were excluded from the free trade list over concerns the UK would not remain “dynamically aligned” with EU standards on this product.

Sandy McGowan is a director of Milnathort-based Cygnet PEP, Scotland’s largest seed potato exporter. He is also president of the British Potato Trade Association (BPTA) and says that although deeply disappointing, the news is not surprising.

He said: “It’s not new news. Since Brexit was voted for we’ve had this third country equivalence looming and hanging over our heads. The third country status is only granted for seed potato imports into the EU to one other country, and that’s Switzerland, who are sitting there with this dynamic alignment and they’ve agreed to it and they’re mostly tied to the EU within that.

Producers had been trying to ship as much stock out to the EU before the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, but recent delays at Dover mean the window of opportunity is now effectively closed.

The UK has extended for six months the ability to import EU potato seed which, Sandy explains, is to allow for the continued supply of specific potato varieties which cannot be readily sourced from Scottish or UK growers. Longer term, it means there will be an opportunity to produce varieties currently supplied by EU growers – but this cannot happen quickly.

Source: The Courier. Read the full article here
Photo: Late potato harvesting in the Kirriemuir area | The Courier

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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