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Threat to seed potato exports

9th November 2018

Photograph of Threat to seed potato exports

Scotland's world renowned seed potato industry risks losing its 13.5% EU market share in a no deal Brexit scenario, Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon has warned.

In a letter to Secretary of State Michael Gove, she highlights that in this scenario Scotland would become a third country and would therefore be unable to export seed potatoes to the EU.

But the ware potato and processing industry, which is of particular importance to other parts of the UK, could continue to import seed potatoes from the EU for one year following exit day.

Such an outcome would represent a significant loss to this important industry, particularly as the UK has the potential to be self-sufficient in seed potatoes.

And by allowing a one-way trading relationship that disadvantages Scottish seed potato growers, there would be little incentive to fill the internal UK market demand through the sourcing of Scottish seed potatoes.

In yet another example of this UK Government’s damaging approach to exiting the EU, I am concerned to learn from my officials that you have now made a decision regarding seed potato imports which will fail to protect Scotland’s world class industry.

As you will no doubt be aware, seed potatoes from Scotland are world renowned for their high health status: they are of premium quality and are a successful and important part of the Scottish rural economy. We have protected this status by a notification system for imports to Scotland, with our industry voluntarily sourcing all seed potatoes from our domestic supply chain. Scotland currently exports 13.5% of our marketed tonnage of seed potatoes to the EU, generating valuable income for our rural economy. On leaving the EU, the UK must seek third country equivalence status to be able to continue to export our seed potatoes to the European market.

It is now, at this late stage, unlikely that Defra will be able to secure third country equivalence status for seed potatoes in time for the 30 March 2019.

With 62% of people in Scotland voting to remain in the European Union, the Scottish Government opposes EU withdrawal. We nevertheless must proceed to find viable ways to mitigate the risks that leaving the EU will have on all of us, which is one of the reasons why Scottish Government officials have engaged fully and constructively with their counterparts in Defra and the other devolved administrations on this matter.

There is the potential to mitigate the risk of this loss in the immediate aftermath of a disorderly exit by encouraging a greater UK market, where domestic importers would no longer be able to import from the EU. That is something the UK Government could choose to make happen.

We now find ourselves in a situation where the EU will no longer allow imports of seed potatoes from the UK, but the UK will continue to allow imports of seed potatoes from the EU for an interim period.

I struggle to understand why you have made the decision to unilaterally allow continued EU imports of seed potatoes during a one year period, which will cover two growing seasons, rather than put in place necessary and reasonable measures to absorb within the UK the excess production which can no longer access a European market.

As more than 80% of seed potatoes in the UK are of Scottish origin, it is a real concern that the loss for producers, who rely in part on the European market, could have an impact on our domestic supply. This would be a cost paid further down the potato production chain and ultimately by consumers. It could reduce our critical mass and potentially close the door to further overseas opportunities at a time where we have been opening doors to countries such as China.

In a year such as this where potato production across the EU struggled with this summer’s temperatures but Scotland’s production remained strong, it is in all of our interests to protect our seed potato industry.

The Scottish seed potato industry’s interests should not be considered expendable in resolving some of the complexities arising from the process of exiting the EU. I therefore ask you to reconsider this decision and would welcome an urgent discussion on how we can resolve this.

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