EU hints at 15% sugar beet cut

EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has given the clearest indication yet as to the size of this season’s sugar cut, telling EU farm ministers on Monday (20 February) it would be “close to 2.5m tonnes”.

That would be equivalent to almost 15% of the EU’s total quota.

“This one-off cut is vital to ensure that the newly-reformed sugar market gets off to a good start,” she said.

“Unless we act, heavy surpluses will weigh on the market as the reform gets under way.”

The problem has arisen because, since last year’s WTO ruling, the EU is very limited in the amount of sugar it can export with the use of subsidies.

But the restructuring programme included in the reform, which is designed to encourage inefficient sugar processors to quit the industry, will not have much impact until 2007/08.

British sugar beet growers will not know until early March what reduction they will face, as officials still have to work out how the total cut will be divided between member states.

That decision is likely to be taken at the sugar management committee on 2 March in Brussels.

But it is understood that the 2.5m tonne cut will take the form of a “hybrid”, based partly on a linear cut and partly on coefficients to ensure countries with smaller B quotas, such as the UK, are penalised less.

Member states that surrender quota under the restructuring scheme in the first year will also have this taken into account.

“They will not have to pay twice,” said Mrs Fischer Boel.

British growers have the option to take the cut this season or delay it to next season under the special deal done between the NFU and British Sugar, (News, 17 February).

British Sugar head of agricultural operations Colm McKay said the vast majority of growers were looking to plant as normal.

If they want to reduce plantings this season they should contact British Sugar by 28 February, though Mr McKay said there was some flexibility in that date.

For more on the sugar cuts please click here.