JIS News

Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, has said that the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries were prepared to take legal action against the European Union (EU) if the body went ahead with plans to cut the price of sugar from member states.
The Minister, who was speaking at a press briefing at his Hope offices in Kingston yesterday (Oct. 20), to update journalists on the ACP Ministerial Sugar Lobby, argued that the proposed price cut was contrary to the 1975 EU/ACP Treaty, which was of indefinite duration and gave the countries guaranteed access via quotas and an assured price.
Furthermore, he said that the price reduction would have “dire consequences” for the local industry and devastate rural communities, which were heavily dependent on the sugar trade.
Jamaica earns approximately US$100 million per year from exporting the crop and the cut would result in a loss of some US$37 million in annual earnings.
The EU has proposed a 37 per cent reduction in the price paid for sugar originating from ACP countries, beginning with a 20 per cent cut on July 1, 2005 and other 17 per cent applied over the next two years.
Mr. Clarke said that the proposal, which had come from the outgoing EU Agricultural Commissioner “came as a shock to almost everyone and was contrary to assurances given by other European Commissioners to ACP producers that a review should be expected in 2006.”
Minister Clarke said CARICOM’s position on the change was put forward at a meeting held in Guyana recently and was incorporated in the ACP lobby, which suggested that consequent on the review envisaged to happen in 2006, no change should take place before 2008 and in the event of any consideration of any reduction, this reduction would be phased over a prolonged period.
The ACP mandated that a team of ministers responsible for sugar visit member states in Europe to present the views of the affected countries.
The meetings, which started in London on October 11, were largely conducted with Ministers of Agriculture, beet grower organizations and the incoming EU Commissioner for Agriculture and saw the ministers visiting Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
During the discussions, the ACP ministers demonstrated the need to honour the 1975 EU/ACP Treaty. “We put on the table in a very profound way, that there is an agreement which is legally binding and we are prepared to go to the highest court if we can’t get any recompense,” Minister Clarke stated. He however pointed out that what was apparent was that many of the participants were ignorant of the importance of sugar to the island’s economy as well as to the other ACP countries.
The Agriculture Minister said that while the Europeans claimed that one reason for the reform of the sugar regime was to facilitate obligations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it was a fact that current WTO arrangements on agriculture did not require the EU to effect the drastic reductions recommended by the outgoing Commissioner. “They have flexibility to honour agreements that they have and they do not have to go all the way with these cuts as they have proposed,” he pointed out.
“We have put on the table that we would want upfront, some assistance to enable us to deal with efficiencies to help us to be more competitive before the adjustments.we need at this point in time the present price levels that we are receiving to help us to achieve that,” Minister Clarke informed.
He said that the Diaspora would continue to lobby the European Parliament and officials in Brussels, adding that the efforts are expected to yield positive results.
Meanwhile, Executive chairman of the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA), Ambassador Derick Heaven, said that while there was a tendency to suggest that the current lobbying efforts were mendicant, the reality was that a treaty stood to be “abrogated without the necessary requisite discussions, which will allow for a mutually satisfying arrangement that would come from the change.”
“What is being proposed to be effective in 2005, violates all the assurances. the expectations and the understanding is that in 2006, we would do a periodic review. If that review is going to effect and necessitate change, then that is something you negotiate,” Ambassador Heaven pointed out.
Furthermore, he said, the government, acting on those assurances, had been exploring the possibilities for diversifying the sugar industry on the belief that there would be time to do so. “It’s not a case of going with a begging bowl, it is to have a reasoned negotiation for a legitimate case,” he stated.

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