The Organic Trade Board (OTB) and the UK Organic Certifiers Group (UKOCG) criticised the Department of Education, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) recent Brexit technical notice for providing insufficient assurance that necessary precautions were in place.
The paper indicated that UK organic control bodies would be able to continue certifying UK organic operators for trade in the UK. However, it stated they would need to apply for equivalence to the European Commission should the UK become a ‘third country’.
UKOCG chairman Roger Kerr warned that such a process could take up to nine months and could only be applied for until 1 April next year, after the UK leaves the EU. The only way to avoid disruption would be for a Brexit transitional period to be agreed.
Contingency plan needed immediately
The Defra technical notice provided some assurance that possible solutions were being explored, but Kerr claimed it lacked detail and a clear contingency plan was needed immediately. He emphasised the importance of starting discussions as soon as possible.
“The best course of action is for Government to negotiate a mutual recognition agreement with the EU ahead of Brexit day, similar to the ones identified in the Brexit technical paper with the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea,” he added.
OTB Chairman Adrian Blackshaw said it would be easy to negotiate an agreement setting out mutual recognition of standards with the EU, where the UK adopts EU regulation when it leaves the EU – making it equivalent, if not compliant, by default.
“Another option is the EU unilaterally accepting organic imports from the UK in recognition of the interdependency of the organic supply chain across the EU, as the UK Government has indicated they are prepared to do so for all organic imports coming into the UK,” said Blackshaw.
‘A country of equivalency’
“The final option is that Government could apply for the UK as a whole, to be deemed a country of equivalency under Annex 3 of Regulation 1235/2008. Again, this is a prolonged process but could be fast tracked if all parties want this outcome.”
The UKOCG and the OTB are now in talks with Defra to develop a suitable plan of action, as well as working closely with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement.
“All options must be explored and we will be working alongside agencies and organic organisations across the EU to ensure trade continues to flow regardless of the final nature of the EU/UK agreement,” concluded Kerr.