Call for Government Action to Minimise Trade Friction with EU

Union writes to Lord Frost on need for equivalence to reduce crippling cost burden and bureaucracy

NFU Scotland is calling on the UK Government to prioritise the substantial paperwork and physical inspections associated with agri-food trade to Europe that has resulted in friction, delay, losses and extra costs.

The Union has written to Lord Frost following his recent appointment as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office leading on post-Brexit strategy and UK chair of both the Partnership Council and the Joint Committee.

According to NFU Scotland, a priority for Lord Frost must be simplification of the extensive sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) border controls that currently require lengthy specialist paperwork and frequent physical inspections on products of animal or plant origin.  The cost and time currently levied by these compliance requirements present a severe hindrance to trade and have been hugely disruptive to the movement of seed potatoes, vegetables, plants and livestock.  

A major failure of the trade deal with the EU from the perspective of Scottish agriculture is around seed potatoes. In an annex to the Lord Frost letter, NFU Scotland points out that failure by the UK and the EU to agree equivalence on seed potatoes has had immediate and grave consequences.  As an EU Member State, Britain exported around 30,000 tonnes of seed potatoes, worth £13.5 million, to mainland Europe each year and the majority of these were high-health stocks grown in Scotland.  That trade has come to a complete halt.

NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “Whether it is seed potatoes, plants or livestock, many of the export difficulties being experienced stem from the compliance needs associated with export health certificates and customs declarations. The extra cost and time levied by these compliance requirements present a new, and possibly permanent, hindrance to trade unless rectified.

“Immediate priority must be given to streamlining these forms and processes through digitisation as an absolute minimum.  As both the EU and the UK have the same sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules in place, agreements on equivalence and the mutual recognition of each other’s rules must be accepted to ease the flow of these goods. Only when either partner makes a change to those SPS rules should it be necessary to require an export health certificate or customs declaration.

“Specifically, on seed potatoes, this an issue which is particularly damaging to the high value, high health sector in Scotland due to the loss of these lucrative EU markets.  We welcomed the rapid action of Defra in applying for equivalence to the European Commission in January. However, it is hugely disappointing that the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed has continued to block the application on what NFU Scotland considers to be increasingly spurious grounds.

“We will continue to work with all Governments and stakeholders on seeking a resolution to the loss of these vital seed potato markets but with planting time approaching, the concern is the damage not just to this season, but next as well.

“Scottish seed potato growers need to decide now if they are to plant the varieties wanted in Europe or instead plant the processing varieties that growers in England will need to replace those that have normally been sourced on the continent.  The seed potatoes grown in 2021 will be the raw material for the crops that will be grown in England and elsewhere in 2022. The sector therefore requires immediate clarity if the UK supply chain is to have any chance of adapting for this season and next.

“Of equal importance is the joint UK Farming Unions’ policy that seed potato trade with the EU must be reciprocal. The current derogation that allows EU seed potatoes to come into the UK until the end of June 2021 has, in NFU Scotland’s view, been unhelpful in encouraging an agreement on equivalence.  This asymmetrical arrangement is putting UK producers at a disadvantage and NFU Scotland is advocating strongly for this not to be extended.”  


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 38/21

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About The Author

Bob Carruth

A dairy farmer’s son, I joined NFU Scotland in 1999 after 13 years as an agricultural journalist. Following spells as a regional manager and policy lead on milk, livestock and animal health and welfare, I became Communications Director in 2008.

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