However, Spencer said Xylella outbreaks are taking Costa Rica out of the market, while he worries "the tap will be turned off" on cuttings imports should the disease break out elsewhere. Spencer said companies such as Ball Colegrave are investing in European production as a consequence.
The Ornamentals Round Table Action Plan action plan "ask" for import substitution is "not achievable" without huge amounts of cost, said Spencer, because unrooted cuttings from Central America and Africa are so much cheaper than they could ever be from the UK. The UK has more expensive glass, labour and heating costs compared with Costa Rica or Ethiopia, he pointed out.
"Of course, many UK growers are buying their young plants or unrooted cuttings overseas, so what is 'import substitution' really?" he asked. "I see no realistic way that UK horticulture could be completely self-sufficient in a modern market - it's a pipe dream."
European Nursery Stock Association (ENA) secretary general Josep Pages said: "Although ENA is not against the imports of plants from third countries, we consider that the entry of large numbers of plants for commercial purposes in the EU significantly increases the risk of introducing serious pests and diseases.
"The EC should ensure that all member states work to the same plant health standards. There is a concern that if just one member state has a weak policing of its import controls then that country will simply become the one through which harmful organisms could be imported. In order to avoid unfair concurrence of imports from third countries and to achieve reciprocity in trade relations, it is necessary to establish the reverse strategy in community phytosanitary policy, harmonising and enhancing import controls."
"ENA is strongly in favour of the robust measures adopted by the EC to avoid the import of infected plants into the European countries and would like to advise those countries not members of the EU to adopt them as well. ENA also encourages the EU to adopt any reasonable and proportionate measure to prevent the spread of this disease in the EU but we are against any additional measure implemented by EU member states preventing the free circulation of goods within the EU without strong scientific evidence."
He added: "European nurserymen are aware about the disease and doing their best to avoid it. Some progress is being made by the EU, allocating funding for R&D and preventive sampling, and we'd expect more funding for quick eradication and help for businesses affected by new outbreaks, if necessary. We are also confident the nurseries out of the demarcated areas are free from Xylella."
ENA said it also "has a great concern on the spread of other pests and diseases in several countries". These include the polyphagous pests of many ornamental tree species Anoplophora glabripennis and Anoplophora chinensis, the fungus Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (Chalara fraxinea) disease of Fraxinus, the new fungus disease caused by Phytophthora lateralis on Chamaecyparis, the threat of emerald ash borer Agrilus planipennis, the bacteria Erwinia amylovora in new European countries and regions and the fungal disease caused by Cryphonectria parasitica on Castanea sativa.
It added: "As the spread of quarantine diseases is a great risk and danger for both the environmental and agricultural systems in all European countries, ENA demands from the EU significant high funding that will allow rapid reaction against the first detections including compensation for owners if eradication measures must be taken and start or enhance R&D projects to prevent and fight against those pests and diseases."