THE EU and the UK remain locked in negotiations over the future protection of geographical indicators on food and drink products post-Brexit – an impasse, which left unsolved, could see the trademarks of important Scottish exports such as whisky and Scotch beef and lamb under threat.

It has been suggested that the UK is holding back on mutually recognising geographical indicators with the EU, so as to hold on to a potential negotiating chip in future talks. This continues to be one of the most sensitive and outstanding issues holding back current Brexit negotiations and one of huge importance to the agri-food sector.

Despite the UK not being one of the bigger users of PGIs, with a greater number attributed to countries such as Spain, France, Germany and Italy, one of the most valuable PGIs in the entire EU is Scotch whisky. The EU has agreed to mutual recognition of the existing 3000 PGIs in stock, believing that their protection in the withdrawal agreement is a necessity to guarantee intellectual property rights – however, the UK has so far refused to reciprocate.

The future sustainability of Scotland’s rural communities has also been raised as a growing concern, according to an EU Commission official for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. He stressed that urbanisation is leading to a decline in rural populations.

“All of our territories are becoming increasingly urbanised with people moving into towns,” he explained. “We need to sustain rural communities and most of these revolve around small agri-food businesses to keep them afloat. To keep people in the countryside you have to keep the services; so the school stays, the local pharmacy stays and the local shops stays,” he continued. “If you take the people out, you lose the services and the whole infrastructure of the rural communities begins to fall apart.

“This raises all sorts of other issues about investment in technology and investment in, for example, rural broadband. So much business is now done online, so if there isn’t a reasonable degree of IT infrastructure in rural areas, then it will suck young people out in to the larger centres,” he stressed.

The EU Commission official went on to explain the importance of farmers in protecting and supporting future rural communities: “Farmers are pretty good spenders. They turn money around; they get the cheque from the creamery, they go down to the merchant to buy their goods – it is a cycle of money in small communities which maintains the viability of those rural areas,” he explained.

“If you take away the income that comes from the local mart or from the co-op, then you take away the spending power of farmers in the local merchant where he is buying feed and fertiliser. You take away his income and his purchasing power and in doing so you compromise the viability of the merchant and suddenly the whole ecosystem starts to crack,” he stressed. “The viability of rural communities is a big issue, but it is linked to the future of farming and particularly in areas where it is commercially difficult,” he concluded.