Supporting potato trade with the Canaries

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Each year, large quantities of GB ware and seed are exported to the Canary Islands. Potato Council’s head of seed and export, Rob Burns, updates on the current difficulties affecting this long established trade agreement.

“While no one knows the exact date of the potato’s arrival in Europe, its entry point was probably Spain’s Canary Islands, where traditional potato cuisine plays an important part of their culture,” says Rob.

The islands’ population of 2.1 million is supplemented by a further 9 million tourists each year and the islands’ domestic potato production cannot sustain the high level of demand.

“This makes it a regular destination for 30,000 tonnes of high quality GB ware, predominately from Essex. The Canaries also import our high quality, high health seed stocks for replanting.”

This season has been especially frustrating and costly for some of our exporters. Nearly 2% of ware consignments were rejected due to the presence of soil and a small number of seed consignments were also rejected for being above disease tolerance levels.

“The Canary Islands has a different plant health status to the rest of Spain and is treated by the EU as a ‘third country’. This means consignments are required to be inspected by Plant Health Inspectors and accompanied by Phytosanitary Certificates which confirm that they meet all the importing country’s requirements,” says Rob.

In order to understand the reasons for the rejections and find ways to reduce these occurring, Defra has been working through the British Embassy in Madrid since before Christmas to build relationships with key personnel with MAGRAMA (Spanish Ministry of Agriculture), the authority which oversees import controls and enforcement on the islands.

“It’s imperative that rejection issues are swiftly resolved,” notes Rob. “This long standing trade arrangement is recognised as important to both the UK and Spain.”

Defra’s discussions with MAGRAMA, have confirmed that the Canary Islands regulations are interpreted as meaning a ‘zero tolerance’ for soil on imported material. This is based on the Canary Islands Order of 12 March 1987, which lays down plant health rules for the importation, exportation and transit of plants and plant products.

“The interpretation of zero soil tolerance means is that there can be no soil adhering to the potatoes ,” says Rob.

Defra has requested further information from the Spanish authorities on how their Regulations are being interpreted by the Canary Islands’ inspectors and is seeking clarification about disease tolerance levels following this seasons rejections. APHA Plant Health inspectors will update the current guidelines to include any additional detailed disease tolerance levels once these have been received from the Spanish authorities. UK Exporters should consult as usual with their Plant Health inspectors for guidelines in advance of next season’s exports.

“It has been a frustrating time for GB exporters appealing the rejection process, which is completely impractical,” states Rob.

A formal appeal in writing has to be submitted to MAGRAMA within one month of the rejection.

“However, the process is taking around 6 months and is currently unworkable for the purposes of any particular shipment.”

The UK head of National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) will also now receive formal notifications of rejections from the islands which were previously only sent to the exporter concerned.

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