JIS News

European Union agriculture ministers opened talks in Brussels today (Nov. 22) aimed at reaching a consensus on how to bring its sugar subsidy programme in line with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
The meeting was chaired by Britain’s Farm Minister Margaret Beckett, who, while sticking to the European Commission’s proposal of a 39 per cent price cut in the price paid for sugar from domestic growers, Jamaica and other African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, suggested that the cut should be phased in over a four-year period starting in 2006.
However, at least seven EU countries remain opposed to the planned reforms. Jamaican and many former colonies, which enjoy preferential access for sugar products in the European market, are calling for a reduction of no more than 19 per cent and want the price reductions to be phased in over an eight-year period. The ACP countries also want special access to remain intact for two years until the cuts are phased in.
With the proposed 39 per cent cut, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad, the Caribbean’s leading sugar producers, will lose an estimated 93 million euros (US$110 million) annually.
The EU is pursuing an overhaul of sugar sector after the WTO ruled that its subsidy programme, which held sugar prices at three times the global market price and imposed hefty import tariffs, was unfair to other world producers. It has until May next year to reform its sugar aid programme.
The WTO in its ruling, said that the EU aid programme was unfair, as it facilitated the paid out of export subsidies to get millions of tons of sugar off its market, helping to keep EU prices high and support Europe’s farmers.
EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, argued that the reform was needed to ensure that the EU’s sugar-farming sector remained viable and to show the EU’s trade partners that it was willing to open up its market to international competition. The current sugar subsidy programme runs out in 2006.
Some 325,000 European farmers grow beet sugar. France, Germany and Poland are the biggest producers.
Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Finland and Poland, among others, are vocal opponents to the reform, arguing it will decimate their beet-sugar farmers and have formed a blocking minority.