Forty-second Report of Session 2019–21 Contents

2EU-UK Relations: Equivalence of various seeds and plants4

These EU documents are politically important because:

  • the EU remains reluctant to grant equivalence to a number of plant products produced in the UK, including seed potatoes and vegetable seed, with a consequent impact on the export of those products from Great Britain to the EU and Northern Ireland.

Action

Write to the Minister.

  • Draw to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Overview

2.1In advance of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020 the UK submitted a request to the Commission for seed, plants and plant propagating material, including Forest Reproductive Material (“FRM”),5 to be recognised as equivalent to such material produced in the EU in order to allow material produced in Great Britain to continue to be exported to the EU and Northern Ireland.

2.2The Commission has already granted the UK equivalence for fruit and vegetable plants and plant propagating material.6 Equivalence for Forest Reproductive Material and for seed of the main agricultural species was proposed at the end of December (documents (a) and (b)). The UK’s initial application for equivalence for seed potatoes, however, has not been accepted. EU plant health restrictions7 currently prevent seed potatoes being imported into the EU (and Northern Ireland) from non-EU countries, with the exception of Switzerland, unless “special requirements, or equivalent requirements”8 are fulfilled. There is also an outstanding query regarding the equivalence of vegetable seed produced in the UK.

The Government’s position

2.3In the Explanatory Memoranda9 on the two documents, the Government observes that the Northern Ireland Protocol requires that EU plant health legislation will continue to apply in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland annexed to the Withdrawal Agreement. As a consequence of this, equivalence decisions—or a lack of them—between the UK and EU apply only to GB. In the case of seed potatoes, for example, Northern Ireland remains able to export to the EU despite the prohibition on exports from the rest of the UK. Equally, however, GB is unable to export seed potatoes to Northern Ireland.

2.4The Government adds that, for technical reasons, the “tested”10 category of FRM was excluded from the equivalence Decision, but the Government is exploring whether this category can be included in the future as it will otherwise impact on British nurseries exporting to the EU and Northern Ireland.

2.5The Government explains that the UK has, in parallel, taken steps to recognise EU processes and controls for seed, FRM and fruit and vegetable plants and plant propagating material as equivalent to GB processes for a period of two years. This is except for seed potatoes for which England and Wales are granting the EU equivalence for a six-month period. Although the UK is broadly self-sufficient in the total quantity of seed potato production, it does not currently produce the range of varieties required by the UK market. Permitting the import of seed potatoes into England and Wales for six months allows for planting in spring 2021 and affords businesses a further period of adaptation. The Government is continuing to work for a reciprocal agreement with the EU in time for the 2022 growing season, allowing longstanding trading patterns to resume.

2.6On the lack of any decision to grant equivalence for the vegetable seed produced in the UK, the Government will be exploring this with the Commission.

Our assessment

2.7A number of issues remain outstanding based on the Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the Government. These are:

2.8We note that the UK’s plant health regulations remain largely aligned with those of the European Union and we will therefore seek clarification as to the concerns expressed by the Commission to explain the reluctance in granting equivalence in the above circumstances. We will ask the Government to set out the obstacles encountered and the latest state of play in resolving them.

Action

2.9We have written to the Government as set out below raising queries regarding the outstanding equivalence decisions.

2.10We are reporting the documents to the House as politically important and we draw them to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Letter from the Chair to the Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)

We considered the Explanatory Memoranda on the above documents at our meeting of 24 March 2021.

We note that, despite Great Britain’s plant health regulations remaining largely aligned with those of the European Union and Northern Ireland, the Government has encountered problems in securing equivalence for the following plant products:

It would be helpful if you could set out the obstacles encountered, the reasons for them and the latest state of play in resolving them.

We would welcome a response within ten working days.

4 (a) Proposal for a Decision amending Council Decision 2008/971/EC as regards the equivalence of forest reproductive material produced in the United Kingdom to such material produced in the Union (b) Proposal for a Decision amending Council Decisions 2003/17/EC and 2005/834/EC as regards the equivalence of field inspections and the equivalence of checks on practices for the maintenance of varieties of agricultural plant species carried out in the United Kingdom; Council and/or COM number: (a) COM(20) 852 (b) 5004/21; Legal base: Article 43(2) TFEU; Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC number: (a) 41765 (b) 41769.

5 Seed units, parts of plants (such as cuttings), and planting stock.

7 Annex VI of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2072 establishing uniform conditions for the implementation of Regulation (EU) 2016/2031, as regards protective measures against pests of plants.

8 Article 41 of Regulation (EU) 2016/2031, as regards protective measures against pests of plants.

9 Explanatory Memorandum on document (a); Explanatory Memorandum on document (b).

10 Tested material from tested seed orchards or stands which can produce seed of improved quality.




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