Government ministers in England and Scotland say they are working together to get a European Union ban on UK seed potato exports lifted.
The UK usually exports about 30,000t of British seed potatoes worth some £13.5m to mainland Europe every year – an important trade for growers.
But ongoing shipments are unlikely because the EU has refused to grant the UK approved third country status for seed potatoes.
Defra secretary George Eustice said the UK had asked Brussels to reverse the ban.
“There is no scientific justification whatsoever for the EU to put such restrictions on the UK, he told the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday (7 January).
Brussels had been reluctant to reverse the prohibition unless the UK fully aligned its rules with the EU – but an alternative solution was to seek equivalence.
Mr Eustice said equivalence could only be sought after the UK left the EU and that route was now being pursued following the end of the Brexit transition period.
“There is article in EU law – I think it is Article 42 – which enables us to make an application for recognition of equivalence,” he said.
High health status
“That has already been filed – we did it on the first available day.”
Evidence to support equivalence had been in place for months, added Mr Eustice, who said he would be urging Brussels to expedite the application.
About 80% of the UK’s seed potatoes are produced in Scotland.
Mr Eustice said Scotland had the highest-health seed potatoes anywhere in the world – a health status that is higher than the health status of some EU potatoes.
Scottish rural cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing, who also spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference, said the ban on UK shipments was only in place because of Brexit.
“George and I are working on this in a practical fashion and I hope we can solve it,” he said.
A tit-for-tat ban on UK imports of EU seed potatoes from the EU is unlikely for the time being – so British growers will still be able to grow European varieties.
“We have taken a judgement that for an initial period of six months, we will allow those potatoes to go to UK potato farmers,” said Mr Eustice.
Farmers in Ireland – which is a major importer of Scottish seed potatoes – would have “quite an issue” unless the situation was resolved quickly, he added.