21 December 2000
Brussels to reprieve sugar market?

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

BRUSSELS plans to open up Europes sugar market to the worlds least developed countries are expected to be watered down, if not abandoned.

Known as the “everything but arms” initiative, the commission has sought to eliminate all trade barriers to the worlds 48 least developed countries..

But the move has attracted widespread criticism from the UK, French and German industries, who say it will devastate their markets.

British Sugar estimates that up to 5m tonnes of cut-price sugar, equivalent to 40% of European production, could be imported as countries expand production.

Certain African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, which already have preferential access to the EU sugar market, also oppose the proposal.

A planned European Commission meeting on Thursday (21 December), at which the proposals were due to be discussed, has been called off for a third time

The reason is that two principle players – farm commissioner Franz Fischler and trade commissioner Pascal Lamy – are still wide apart on the issue.

Brussels insiders suggest there are three options on the table.

Meanwhile, farm ministers meeting in Brussels this week have failed to reach agreement on reforming the existing sugar support regime.

The commission wants some minor amendments followed by radical reform in 2003. But most member states want a five-year rollover of the current regime.

Only the UK, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands called for swifter, deeper change at this weeks council.

Final decisions cannot be adopted until the European parliament has given its opinion, expected in February.

Farm council president, French minister Jean Glavany, said there was a clear majority in favour of extending the regime for another five campaigns.

But Mr Fischler said: “We cannot ignore that sugar has gone unreformed and, therefore, has departed further from other arable crops.”