These EU documents are politically important because:
5.1In 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”), 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. We set out further details of this issue in our of 24 March 2021, following which we to the then Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity (Lord Gardiner of Kimble).
5.3On seed potatoes, the Minister explained that, last year, the UK’s application to facilitate the export of plants to the EU, such as seed potatoes—which are otherwise prohibited under EU plant health legislation—had not been progressed on the basis that the UK was not dynamically aligned with the EU’s legislation on plant health in the same way as Switzerland is.
5.4The Minister explained that the Government then submitted a new application on 12 January 2021, under Article 44 of the EU Plant Health Law, requesting that the EU recognise GB’s regulations as equivalent, and for the EU to authorise imports of seed potatoes. Article 44 allows the EU to grant equivalence on the basis that the third country concerned ensures a level of plant health protection which is equivalent to the special requirements in respect of the movement within the Union territory of the plants, plant products and other objects concerned.
5.5The UK’s application under Article 44 was rejected on 28 January on the basis of a lack of commitment to dynamic alignment, even though Article 44 contains no such restriction. The Minister indicated that the EU’s position was most recently reiterated in a letter to the Secretary of State on 19 March 2021.
5.6The EU’s position, said the Minister, is despite an agreement on 11 February 2021 between the then Co-Chairs of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee that any future approaches should be based on the essential or substantial equivalence of the UK’s and EU’s respective regimes. Given the UK’s current regime aligns substantially with the EU, the UK will therefore continue to press on with its request that prohibitions are lifted. The Government, said the Minister, is acutely aware of the issues that a continued prohibition on the export of seed potatoes will cause for industry.
5.7In terms of the equivalence recognition of the production of GB vegetable seed, the Government is engaging with the Commission to establish the reason for the omission and to push for vegetable seed production to be included in the equivalence Decision. The Minister noted that the evidence provided in support of the UK’s application demonstrated the UK’s measures for meeting equivalence in the same way as for other crop sectors.
5.8Since the Minister wrote, the Commission has authorised Member States to recognise as equivalent the “tested” category of FRM. In his original , the then Minister had explained that the lack of equivalence for this category was likely to affect British nurseries exporting to the EU and Northern Ireland.
5.9We are pleased to note that there has been some movement, on the equivalence of Forest Reproductive Material, and that this will help British nurseries exporting to the EU and Northern Ireland.
5.10The continued difficulties in securing equivalence for seed potatoes and vegetable seed are regrettable and may well be linked to the current discussions concerning implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including arrangements for sanitary and phytosanitary checks. We welcome the Government’s efforts to overcome the difficulties.
5.11We have written to the current Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity (Rt Hon. Lord Benyon) as set out below, looking forward to a further update in due course.
5.12We are reporting the then Minister’s letter, and our response, to the House as politically important and we draw them to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee.
We considered your predecessor’s letter of 6 April 2021 on the above documents at our meeting of 26 May 2021.
We welcome the Commission’s authorisation for Member States to recognise the “tested” category of Forest Reproductive Material from GB as equivalent to that of the EU and note your predecessor’s earlier conclusion that this would facilitate exports from British nurseries to the EU and Northern Ireland.
It is highly regrettable, however, that the EU is still refusing to recognise GB seed potatoes and vegetable seed as equivalent. We support the Government’s efforts to make progress on this issue and we look forward to a further update in due course.
13 (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) (b) + ADD 1; Legal base: Article 43(2) TFEU; Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC number: (a) 41765 (b) 41769.
14 Seed units, parts of plants (such as cuttings), and planting stock.
15 Forty-second Report HC 229–xxxvi (2019–21), (24 March 2021).
16 See the Minister’s to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee (Sir William Cash MP).
17 on protective measures against plant pests.
18 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 March 2021 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.
19 Tested material from tested seed orchards or stands which can produce seed of improved quality.
20 of 10 May 2021 authorising Member States, in accordance with Council Directive 1999/105/EC, to temporarily decide on the equivalence of forest reproductive material of certain categories produced in certain third countries.