A Fair Share of Sugar Jan04

 

SUFFOLK is famous for its beautiful green countryside and historic cottages - and wagon loads of sugar beet on country roads destined for the factories of East Anglia. Almost 7,000 farmers and 20,000 workers, involved with growing and transporting sugar beet, allow our sugar factories - including Bury St Edmunds - to save the economy 1bn per annum in imports.

 

Sugar beet is indispensable not only for East Anglia's rural economy but also its environment that offers the quality of life to so many. A farming friend tells me his most profitable arable crop on his 100 acre farm is beet, which is also a vital part of his sheep business.

 

He writes: "I feed all the un-harvested tops and crowns to my sheep and use the autumn period prior to sowing the crop as an opportunity to grow a short term or 'catch crop' of stubble turnips that are used for fattening lambs. The turnips also act as a food supply and shelter for wild life, in particular, hares and grey partridges. Sugar beet is an institution in East Anglia and as a grower I am willing to have my legs cut off but am asking you to save my neck."

 

Reform of the EU's sugar regime should not penalise the UK because we are a substantial net importer of sugar from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. Domestic production of sugar is insufficient to meet UK demand and so the UK imports 1.1m tons of the total EU import of 1.6m tons. Excessive production on the continent (France produces twice its requirement) creates a crisis for the least developed countries in the ACP who benefit by receiving a higher than world price for their export quotas for the EU market.

 

The European Commission should formulate a proposal that is equitable such that the UK, a net importer at higher EU prices, is exempt from any cuts in quota. We must not accept any proposal that will disadvantage or threaten East Anglian businesses, including sugar beet farmers, transporters, machinery suppliers and sugar factory workers.

 

Three options being considered by the Commission are:

1.      A modest reduction in price and quota (UK exempted) which would mean lower profits for EU sugar beet growers without de-stabilising the EU's rural economy. It would allow sugar producers in poor ACP countries a guaranteed and profitable access to the EU market, including the UK that takes 50% of their total output. Almost all EU farmers accept this option.

 

2.      A 40% reduction in price, which would make most ACP sugar cane producers unable to compete with Brazilian producers who are subsidised and enjoy economies of scale.

3.      Abandoning all price control and quotas and globalise the market for sugar. This would result in market domination of cheap Brazilian sugar, consequent serious damage to sugar dependent economies of ACP countries and unacceptable financial ruin of East Anglian businesses.

 

We cannot accept options two and three because they discriminate against the UK farmers precipitating rural economic collapse, unemployment, substantial environmental damage, loss of 1bn revenue and loss of traceablility. Furthermore, these Options are unacceptable to almost every ACP country.

 

I shall fight hard in Brussels to ensure that the Commission proposal is based on Option 1 with no quota cut for the UK. I urge all our people to defend our sugar industry and lobby their local chamber of commerce, councillors, MP, MEP and write to both the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for DEFRA. The UK Government can and must stand up for its farmers at the top table in the EU.