18 January 2002

Cane growers condemn EUssugar proposals

By Edward Long

MANY cane sugar producers currently supplying EU markets are as worried about the reform of the EU sugar regime as UK beet growers.

The EU has proposed that tariff-free and quota-free sugar from the worlds 48 least developed countries be allowed into the EU by January 2009. That would deal a body blow to the domestic beet industry, delegates heard at the "Sugar Prospects" conference organised by Farmers Link in Suffolk this week.

"In the developed world a sugar beet industry cannot exist alongside raw cane imports," explained former Tate & Lyle technical director Mike Bennett. "In Canada it could not compete and the last factory shut in British Columbia in the mid-1990s. This should be a warning to EU growers."

But overseas sugar cane growers could suffer too. That is because the World Trade Organisation agreement allowing preferential trade between the EU and its ex-colonies is also under review. That could threaten existing imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific nations after 2008.

Unless a way can be found for them to continue supplying the EU their economies could be wrecked. "It is worrying as Jamaicas sugar industry, which employs 200,000 out of a total population of 2.5m, could be wiped out," said Abijah Buchanan of the All Islands Jamaica Cane Farmers Association.

"Exports are worth $100m a year. If lost we would immediately become a least developed country. But by then it would be too late to benefit from the EU market. I am worried the overall structure will be reformed without a new system to allow our sugar access." &#42