According To Edwards ... Find ways to support homegrown product

There is a grey area between sensible regulation and illegal protectionism that makes it difficult to see the line dividing the two.

Last summer I visited a large Norwegian glasshouse that produces almost 50 per cent of that country's tomato consumption. Norway isn't the obvious place to grow tomatoes, so you might think they manage it by somehow harnessing Scandinavian geothermal energy or building production facilities next to power plants to cunningly make use of excess heat. But no, they're using relatively traditional production techniques.

Not being in the EU, Norway is free to set import tariffs. The tariff on tomatoes is set at a level that makes homegrown product competitive. That's good if you're a tomato grower - you stand a chance in a market otherwise dominated by suppliers from climates better for growing tomatoes. It's not so good if you're a consumer because your tomatoes will cost a great deal more than they would if bought in an unrestricted market.

Such tariffs make Norway a country with greater production than you might expect, but where the cost of living is frighteningly high. Vast oil revenues ease that burden for those who have good jobs, but it's not a happy situation for those who don't.

These tariffs no longer exist in the EU - protectionism is not allowed. But sometimes you find something close. The Swedes have a "quality standard" for plants. It aims to ensure that amenity plants are chosen from a range of species suitable for the environment, of appropriate quality and effectively inspected for pests and diseases. Sounds sensible. The problem is, to ensure all this, plants must be sourced from an approved Swedish nursery. That has a whiff of protectionism about it.

While I would of course never want to promote something that is not legal, perhaps a good UK plant health standard could be constructed in a way that would not disadvantage the UK producer.

Tim Edwards is chairman of Boningale Nurseries


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