There’s a New Spud in Town: Seed Potato Trade in a Post-Brexit World

After Brexit, EU seed potato producers are set to increase their market share against UK producers. But how much EU producers will benefit depends on how quickly the UK can establish new trade deals.

North-western Europe is an important region for providing seed potatoes to Middle-Eastern and African markets. EU members benefit from free-trade agreements that give preferential access to European seed potatoes entering countries such as Egypt and Morocco.

Since the UK will no longer be part of the EU post-Brexit, it’s highly likely that the UK will not be able to trade under current EU trade agreements. If no new trade agreements have been agreed on before the UK leaves the EU, UK trade flows will fall under WTO rules. The standard WTO import tariff for seed potatoes is 4.5%, but import tariffs can be as high as Morocco’s 40% tariff on seed potato imports.1

In 2016, global seed potato trade had a value close to EUR 700m. The most significant exporters in this market are the Netherlands, France, the UK, and Germany, with a combined market share of 82%.2 Egypt is the largest importer of seed potatoes, sourcing more than 70% of its yearly seed potato requirements from the Netherlands and the UK. Morocco also sources large quantities of seed potatoes from the Netherlands and UK (see Table 1).

Table 1: Seed potato trade in selected countries, 2016 (tonnes)

Table 1_Seed potato-01

Currently, trade between the EU, Egypt, and Morocco falls under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. These reciprocal agreements provide EU seed potatoes with tariff-free access to markets in Egypt and Morocco. In return these countries benefit from tariff-rate quotas for fresh potatoes entering the EU.

By being part of the European Single Market, UK seed potato exporters benefit from tariff-free exports and shared import tariff rate quotas for fresh potatoes with other European countries. But now that the UK’s access to that single market is uncertain, what can European and UK seed potato producers expect regarding the seed potato trade with non-EU countries?

UK seed potato exporters will not only face a cost price disadvantage versus EU exporters due to a potential rise in import tariffs—an increase in non-tariff trade barriers can also be expected. These barriers range from new customs control on imports and exports to additional phytosanitary checks on seed potatoes, further increasing the cost of trade for UK exporters.

At the moment, EU seed potato producers are in the position to increase their market share at the expense of the more expensive post-Brexit UK producers to non-EU countries. However, to what extent EU producers will benefit depends on how fast the UK government will be able to close new trade deals removing tariffs on seed potatoes after leaving the UK.

by Stefan van Merrienboer

1 AHDB Horizon Potatoes December 2016

2 UN Comtrade 2017

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