The government has urged the French agricultural ministry not to block reform of the EU sugar regime, which could unlock lucrative markets for UK food and drink exports around the world.
Owen Paterson, secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), urged French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll not to delay proposed reforms of the European sugar market at a dinner on Monday night (January 28).
Speaking later, Paterson said: “We’ve got to scrap Europe’s counter-productive sugar beet quotas as soon as possible and lift the protectionist controls on imports of cane sugar. They are bad for business and bad for consumers.
“British cakes, biscuits and sweets are some of the best in the world and our manufacturers have got a massive opportunity to feed the growing global demand for western-style foods.”
China and India
DEFRA has highlighted the export potential of emerging consumer markets such as China and India in particular.
The government argues agricultural quotas distort supply and demand and artificially inflate prices – adding up to 1% to weekly shopping bills. Some claim sugar quotas increase the wholesale cost of sugar for manufacturers by as much as 35%.
So, it wants the European Commission to implement a proposal to abolish sugar beet quotas by 2015. France and other member states have discussed pushing back reforms until 2020, arguing that the Europe’s sugar beet sector is not ready for radical reform.
The government also wants the EU to put measures in place to boost raw cane sugar imports. Such action would allow UK refiners, such as Tate and Lyle Sugars, now owned by the American Sugar Holdings Group, to compete on an equal footing with competitors in Europe and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, speaking at the Food and Drink Federation president’s reception last month, Paterson warned Britain was facing a “dessert deficit” to rival its economic deficit.
It was disappointing that the UK imported 150,000t of ice cream a year – triple the amount it exports, he said.