FARMING Minister Jim Paice has claimed liberalising the EU’s ‘protectionist’ sugar regime would bring ‘huge benefits for Britain’s economy’.

Opening the International Sugar Organisation conference in London, he argued that with the world’s population due to reach 9 billion in coming decades, Britain’s sugar beet industry must be allowed to take advantage of the opportunities to export foods to emerging markets.

The NFU recently described the UK Government’s backing for European Commission proposals to end EU sugar quotas by 2015, under current CAP reform plans, as ‘ridiculous’.

NFU beet sugar board chairman William Martin said the move would force prices down and was out of step with the rest of Europe. He claimed the UK’s stance was driven by large sugar-using corporations, including Coca Cola, Nestle and Tate & Lyle.

But in his speech on Tuesday (November 29), Mr Paice said the UK welcomed the proposal because current quotas, and tariffs on imports of cane sugar, are ‘exacerbating shortages, artificially inflating prices, and preventing the sugar industry from taking advantage of the soaring global demand’.

He said: “It’s clear that Britain’s sugar farmers, refiners and food manufacturers are going to have huge opportunities to supply an increasingly hungry world.

“But they must be allowed to take advantage of these opportunities by a system that actually promotes growth and efficiency instead of just doing the opposite.

“That’s why I believe scrapping the anti-competitive beet sugar quotas is necessary, along with trade liberalisation, to increase sugar production, stop shortages and bring down the artificially high prices.”

He said global demand for sugar was growing at two per cent a year and had now reached 165 million tonnes a year, according to OECD figures.

As a result there have been ‘significant shortages of sugar across Europe over the past year’, exacerbated by the EU’s strict sugar regime, which limit imports of cane sugar to certain developing countries and prevent European farmers from growing more sugar beet.

He said this has pushed up prices for manufacturers and consumers to ‘very high levels’, particularly affecting Britain’s food and drink industry, the country’s biggest manufacturing sector.

But Mr Paice stressed that quota must only be scrapped if ‘equal measures’ cane sugar imports are also introduced, so that British refiners like Tate and Lyle can compete on an equal footing.

He said the problems with last year’s UK beet harvest, caused by the severe cold weather, showed Britain’s food security would be better protected by having access to two sources of sugar supply ‘to better guard against climatic or plant disease impacts’.

source: farmersguardian

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