UK could be forced to import sugar from France

The minister for agriculture has warned that despite record beet yields, Britain may be left needing to import sugar from France because of 'completely wrong' EU quotas.

Jim Paice was giving evidence to a House of Lords committee investigating the European Union sugar regime which places limits, otherwise known as quotas, on the amount of beet each country can produce.

However, the quotas are due to expire in 2015 but there have been calls from some EU countries and from farming groups in the UK to extend them until 2020.

Mr Paice warned that with imports of sugar cane from far flung places in the world falling, it could be that Britain would find itself short of sugar but unable to produce further beet because of the restrictive quota.

He went on: 'We know that some other European counties, like France, they have a quota massively in excess of domestic consumption which they have to export and they will export it to us if there is a hole in our market.

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'We've managed to resist that so far but if we've got a decline in cane sugar I'd rather we filled it ourselves than import it from somewhere else because we were constrained.

'That's completely wrong and that is why in principle we wish to see quotas go.'

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The British home-grown sugar industry is regarded as the most efficient in Europe and has made dramatic improvements in crop yield in recent decades.

Meanwhile Norfolk is the heartland of UK beet growing and produces more than 30pc of the national sugar crop, there were record yields of about 74 tonnes per hectare this year.

Mr Paice said he wanted to see the industry grow further in the UK but that it was being stymied by the EU quota system.

He said: 'I would like to see either British Sugar or another start investing in further capacity because we could certainly grow more beet in this country competitively.

'If we are going to see a decline in imports of cane sugar in any form, which seems to be the way the land is lying then I would far rather we were producing our own sugar than having to import from elsewhere in Europe [where] countries are no more competitive, but only because we were tied up in quotas.'

Furthermore, he argued that the EU quotas exacerbated shortages, artificially inflated prices and preventing the sugar industry from taking advantage of global demand.

But the National Farmers' Union has called for the quota system to be extended until 2020 to give the British sugar industry the chance to increase its production capacity before it is forced to compete more heavily with other nations when quotas are dropped.

NFU Sugar Board chairman William Martin said: 'Stability through to 2020 will give British Sugar opportunities to invest in existing processing facilities and for growers to continue to make in-field efficiency gains.

'Our target is to increase productivity by four per cent per annum and while I have no doubt that this is a tough target, it's worth aiming for if we are to be globally competitive by 2020.'

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