Joseph Watts, Political editor
Thursday, January 31, 2013
A cabinet minister has urged the French government to stand aside and allow reform of the EU sugar market, which he claims is holding back British business.
Owen Paterson argues that EU quotas prevent UK farmers growing enough sugar beet to take advantage of business opportunities arising from a growing global demand for western food.
Norfolk, meanwhile, is the heartland of UK beet growing and produces more than 30pc of the national sugar crop.
The European Commission had originally proposed to ditch the quota system in 2015, but last week a key EU committee concluded it should be extended to 2020.
Earlier this week Mr Paterson met the agriculture minister from France; a key state pushing for the quota system extension.
Mr 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.”
However, in contradiction to Mr Paterson’s stance the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) have been campaigning for the quotas to be extended.
They argue the UK sugar industry would not be in a position to meet demand if quotas were scrapped in 2015. Such a move would, they say, leave Britain’s competitors who currently have more capacity free to take control of the market.
NFU Sugar board chairman William Martin argued that a 2015 review would lead to “damaging upheaval” for the UK sugar industry.
He said: “Growers need a period of stability following the last major reform of the [sugar regime] which saw the UK sugar beet industry go through a major restructuring.”
Yesterday an official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government was aware of the “concerns” over British capacity.
He told the EDP: “No one is going to invest in processing plants [to increase capacity] while there is uncertainty that quotas are going to be lifted. There are such massive opportunities that the market must be opened up.
“While we are aware of the concerns from the farming industry we think ultimately this is the best thing to do.”
The European Parliament will meet in early March after which a final decision on the quota system will be taken.