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The plant passporting regime will change on 14 December as Scotland keeps pace with the European Union by bringing into force the EU’s smarter rules for safer food legislative package. The biggest change, which will be in the timber sector, will involve new procedures for the movement of conifer timber with bark. It is vital that implementation is proportionate and agreed with the sector. Following conversations that I had with ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this year, the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments have been working closely with the sector to ensure that a new system is in place by the deadline.
The sector fears that the consequences of missing the deadline and failing to provide a solution could be very serious indeed. It is difficult to quantify, but we are talking about potentially very large costs. That is why I have been pressing the UK for some considerable time to agree a new system to deal with the issue. It was unfortunate that a technical meeting that had been planned for stakeholders to attend on 25 November was unilaterally cancelled by the UK Government. I intervened at that point to ask why, since purdah did not appear to be applicable. I am pleased to say that—probably as a result—the meeting has been reinstated for 5 December, which is tomorrow. However, that leaves little time to put in place a system by the deadline, as Mr Beattie knows. Therefore, there has to be a period of grace to allow the industry to implement the new arrangements. Otherwise, the consequences for the sector could be very serious indeed, at a time when the sawmill sector is experiencing considerable pressure.