SUGAR INDUSTRY representatives have given a cautious welcome to a draft EU sugar plan to revamp support for EU sugar producers along the lines of last year‘s CAP reform.

Experts acknowledge that, with imports set to rise, action has to be taken to deal with the EU‘s structural surplus.

But given that the UK makes no contribution to this surplus, importing about half its sugar from third countries, British Sugar corporate affairs director Chris Carter believes the UK should be exempt from quota cuts.

“The number one priority should be to reduce EU capacity by the suggested restructuring scheme, so that the least efficient plants in Europe are taken out without imposing across-the-board cuts on the most efficient,” he said.

Mr Carter welcomed the idea of cross-border movement of quotas, but said it would be technically very difficult.

He also expressed concern at the scale of price cuts being suggested, though stressed this was just the commission‘s opening shot and would be watered down in the course of negotiations.

NFU chief sugar beet adviser Helen Kirkman said much clarification was still needed, particularly as to how compensation would be paid.

She also called for a sufficient transition period and insisted no changes should come in before the current regime expires in June 2006.

Both representatives stressed the communication was still a draft and details might change significantly in the coming weeks and months.