Calls for EU derogation on chipping potatoes

Northern Ireland’s potato industry is hoping against hope that a derogation allowing the importation of both ware and seed from GB into the province, beyond December 31st, can be sorted out over the coming days.
Wilson's Country Chairman Angus Wilson.Wilson's Country Chairman Angus Wilson.
Wilson's Country Chairman Angus Wilson.

“This issue is not directly linked to the ongoing Brexit trade negotiations,” stressed Wilson’s Country chairman Angus Wilson.

“Rather it has to do with the criteria laid down within the Northern Ireland protocol, which will see the local potato sector remaining within the EU’s single market after January 1st next

“One direct consequence of this will be a ban on both ware and seed potato imports from GB into Northern Ireland on phytosanitary grounds

“The only way around this stumbling block would be for the EU to grant a specific derogation to Northern Ireland’s potato processors and growers. As far as I am aware this issue is being discussed between UK government and EU Commission. However, we need to see the matter resolved as a matter of priority.”

According to the Wilson’s Country representative, many local processors and merchants import ware potatoes from England for chippings.

He added:“We need specific varieties with high dry matter for this market, which are very hard to produce locally. This simply reflects the much wetter growing conditions and limited sunshine that prevails in this part of the world.

“In our own case, fresh chips represent a significant proportion of our throughput across the retail and catering sectors.

“We do not want to have go to Europe to replace the GB tonnes as this would add cost, potentially mean poorer quality and certainly increase our carbon footprint.

“In addition, a considerable percentage of all the seed potatoes used by ware growers in Northern Ireland are sourced in Scotland.

“The reality is that Northern Ireland’s potato sector is very dependent on having unfettered access to both ware and seed imports from the rest of the UK. This trade must be allowed to continue, as is, into the future.

“I am, therefore, calling on all of Northern Ireland’s politicians to make whatever representations they can on these issues as a matter of priority. And the clock is ticking.”

According Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) officials, ware potatoes from GB will not be permitted entry to Northern Ireland from 1st January 2021 without an agreement of equivalence between the UK and EU.

The current situation, with regard to seed potato imports from GB is equally clear. Without agreement to the UK government request to the EU for third country listing, removal of prohibitions on seed and ware and equivalence of seed certification, importation of seed potatoes from GB will not be permitted into Northern Ireland following the end of the EU Exit Transition Period.

Angus Wilson concluded: “We need all the required equivalence agreements reached before the end of the year.

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said that the ban on importing ware potatoes from Britain from 31 December could have a devastating impact on local chip shops and restaurants.

According to Mr McAleer “Approximately 600,000 tonnes of ‘fry quality’ potatoes are imported from Britain each year for use as chips in our chippies and other eating outlets.

“These varieties of potatoes cannot be grown here but as a result of Brexit, Britain is considered a ‘3rd country’ outside the EU regulation zone and from 1 January 2021 these potatoes can no longer be imported to here. This could have a devastating impact on local chippies who are already contending with COVID restrictions and January is lean, even in ‘normal’ years,” he added.

“I raised this issue directly with Minister Poots at the AERA committee and he stated that while supermarkets and other shops got a ‘grace period’ to adjust to the new arrangements no such grace period has been extended to potatoes. The Minister outlined that he is in ongoing engagement with the British DEFRA Secretary George Eustace on this issue, but as yet there is no resolution other than finding an alternative supply line from a country like Holland.”

Mr McAleer added:“Sourcing alternative supply lines at such short notice will be extremely challenging, especially for small businesses and would incur substantial costs for businesses and consumers. This is another consequence of Brexit being inflicted on people and businesses in the north against our will.”