The UK potato industry has been left in no doubt about the frustrations, fears and risk attached to trading high value Scottish seed potatoes as the clock ticks down to a possible no-deal Brexit.
With just five weeks left until current trading conditions change forever, Sandy McGowan of Milnathort-based seed export company Cygnet PEP gave delegates at the AHDB’s virtual potato conference his personal perspective of the looming cliff edge that threatens the industry on December 31.
He said the race is now on to beat the deadline and get deliveries of seed across the Channel by the end of the year – and for Cygnet PEP alone, that will require 200 lorries leaving Scotland before Christmas.
“We’re already seeing a major log jam from UK container and export ports, and Scotland is particularly poorly served by container export options,” he said.
“The opportunity exists to land into cold stores and distribute as required, but that creates risks for us. Storage is obviously bursting within Europe at the moment and finding availability is difficult.
“And customers are used to taking direct delivery, so we have to be mindful of the quality of storage and knowledge of storing seed potatoes.”
Acquiring third country equivalence is vital for the industry, but the EU has made it clear the status will not be discussed until a deal is concluded, even though the UK has already granted a brief extension to seed potato imports from the EU.
Mr McGowan insisted traders were used to dealing with countries in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East, so none of the issues attached to trading with Europe post-Brexit would be insurmountable – but they would carry extra costs and paperwork.
“Perhaps the bigger issue is going to be with those who are receiving the seed who don’t have to trade in this manner with some of our competitors in the EU, particularly major seed producers in Holland, Belgium, France and Denmark,” he said.
“We are giving ourselves another set of hurdles in order to be competitive.”.
Turning to the possibility of export opportunities outwith the EU, Mr McGowan, who is president of the British Potato Trade Association, questioned the significance of trade deals already signed with Canada and other countries.
He said: “Most have these countries have a fairly developed seed industry of their own, so I would be surprised if there was suddenly a massive demand for UK and particularly Scottish seed in these countries.”