Fergus Ewing has written to Theresa Villiers, his newly-appointed opposite number at Westminster, to point out the importance of Geographical Indications to Scottish products such as salmon and Scotch whisky.

Don’t let Brexit blow Scottish salmon’s special status, urges Ewing

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has called on newly appointed UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Theresa Villiers to ensure that Scottish farmed salmon will continue to have its geographical identity protected in the European Union, regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a withdrawal deal.

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The UK Government has previously indicated that so-called Geographical Indications, such as Scottish salmon, will maintain their protected status in Europe regardless of the UK leaving the EU, albeit those assurances have been contradicted by guidance from the Villiers’ Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Geographical Indications are used to promote and protect the names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs, such as salmon, Scotch whisky, and, most recently, Ayrshire Early potatoes.

In a letter to Villiers, Ewing writes that he is continuing his attempt to seek clarification on the status of UK Geographical Indications in the EU post-Brexit.

Uncertainty for producers

Ewing states: “In previous correspondence the then Secretary of State (Michael Gove) intimated that our iconic Geographical Indications will maintain their protected status in Europe and associated territories regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU, albeit that confidence does not square with the guidance published for GI producers by your own Department.”

He continues: “It is not enough to simply hope and believe that the EU will not take steps to remove existing UK GIs from their registers, especially if we are not to protect their GI products from Day 1 in the UK scheme.

“This stance is causing real uncertainty for producers and I implore you to do more to attempt to secure this mutual recognition in negotiations taking place. Can you advise as to whether any discussion has actually been had between the UK and EU, on this very important issue?”

No guarantee

Ewing cites a House of Commons committee report published on June 27 entitled Brand Britain: promoting British Food and Drink, which states that GIs provide legal protection against unlawful imitation of protected food and drink products, and confer a price premium on products and therefore they are economically important as well as being a recognised indicator of origin.

The report states: “Given the UK’s relative strength in high-value food and drink exports, maintaining the protections that GIs provide in major international markets is a priority for the Government. This is reflected by the inclusion of GIs in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU.”

It points out while the UK Government is optimistic that the EU will continue to recognise UK GIs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, given the mutual benefit, there is no guarantee.

“Given the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a deal in October, the Government should ensure that the domestic GI system meets the criteria required for EU approval and is ready prior to exit, to minimise disruption to British exporters,” states the report. “It should prioritise seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU on GIs if agreeing an overarching withdrawal agreement is not possible.”

Ewing finishes his letter by urging Villiers to “act decisively and quickly to achieve a reciprocal agreement on GIs – deal or no deal – something that the producers of our world renowned and iconic geographical indications deserve”.