TLS needs more raw cane sugar than it currently has access to. Under EU regulations, it can only source cane from a limited list of approved developing countries. But because TLS needs more than it can currently get from these, it has been lobbying the European Parliament to allow imports from a wider range of countries.
The EU is unlikely to accede to TLS's request because most sugar processors in Europe use EU-grown sugar beet rather than cane sugar imports. EU Member States would therefore resist the easing of restrictions on cane sugar imports.
TLS, unions and other cane sugar stakeholders met with EU officials last month to discuss the issue. A further meeting is planned for May, said GMB union organiser Paul Campbell. But reform in favour of cane would only happen if the objections of beet growers and beet processors such as British Sugar could be surmounted, Campbell recognised. This looks unlikely, given the desire of countries with large beet crops including the UK to protect their domestic producers.
Relaxation of controls on the import of cane is not being considered while the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being reviewed, confirmed a spokesman for the European Commission. "Regulations concerning cane sugar are not currently in the discussion, so it is very unlikely they will be changed," he added.
TLS now part of the American Sugar Refining group is currently consulting with its workforce over 35 redundancies at the East London refinery as part of a shift from a seven-day production to five, a TLS spokesman said.
These will probably be achieved by voluntary measures, with an announcement due in early May, said Campbell. But more redundancies are likely if the refinery fails to source more cane for refining, he added.
TLS also operates a cane sugar refinery in Lisbon. In total both plants employ around 1,200 staff, whose jobs could be in jeopardy unless TLS secures changes to the import restrictions.