Everything possible will be done to reverse the damaging impact Brexit is set to have on Scotland’s vital seed potato sector, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has pledged.
From 1 January 2021, Scottish seed potatoes will be banned from being exported to the European Union and Northern Ireland after the EU Commission did not agree the case for a change to the prohibition on seed potatoes. This is on the grounds that the UK Government did not agree to be dynamically aligned with EU rules.
The outcome is estimated to have an immediate £15 million economic impact on the sector, with wider impacts felt across the Scottish supply chain.
Around 22,000 tonnes of Scottish seed potatoes, which are highly regarded internationally for their high health status, are exported to the EU and Northern Ireland each year.
The Cabinet Secretary held talks with industry leaders on Monday (27 December) and held an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, to discuss solutions to the issue.
Mr Ewing said:
“I am extremely disappointed and concerned at the impact the loss of the European Union and Northern Ireland markets will have on the Scottish seed potato industry. Scotland did not vote to leave the EU but here we have another example of where the impact will disproportionally affect Scottish businesses.
“Scottish seed potatoes are highly regarded internationally and account for 75% of UK production and 80% of exports. The UK Government has been singularly unsuccessful in making the case for our interests and I am concerned that the existence of Scottish growers reliant on supplying customers in the EU and NI is being put at risk.
“We will not rest on this issue until every possible option has been explored. I met with industry leaders this week to hear their grave concerns, and expect the UK Government to make every effort, alongside the Scottish Government, to ensure our Scottish potato producers do not suffer from the damaging consequences of our exit from the EU.”
James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:
“There’s no dressing this up, this is bad news for Scottish seed potato exporters. 20% of our exports go to the EU, more than 20,000 tonnes a year. It may be one of the smaller sectors in a big trade deal, but tell that to the companies and farmers affected. This will feel to them about as far from a definition of free trade as is possible. There are still markets elsewhere and a roll on deal for Egypt is at least some good news.”