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Big sugar conference to look at future for region

Bert Wilkinson | 4/23/2014, 2:26 p.m.

A major international conference involving sugar producers from Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and other regions is slated for Jamaica next month as fears grow that a new protocol governing sales of crystal to the Europe is being implemented over objections from manufacturers.

Jamaica’s Sugar and Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke will host the annual meeting of the International Sugar Organization (ISO) as the European Union rings various policy changes in its purchasing regime that could seriously affect Third World producers in the Caribbean and beyond.

He says that while Caribbean countries are still enjoying duty and quota free access into the EU for exports, fixed prices former European colonies have enjoyed for decades could be a thing of the past in three years if the Europeans have their way.

The conference comes as the few remaining Caribbean trade bloc producers-Guyana, Jamaica, Belize and Barbados, are all struggling to produce sugar at a cheap enough rate to make exports competitive and to remain in the business other than for political and social reasons.

In 2005, the EU slashed prices by 36 percent and warned of major changes to the old sugar protocol that could be implemented in about three years and drastically change the way that sugar enters the EU market. The price cuts immediately forced Trinidad and St. Kitts to abandon sugar cultivation and production after nearly 400 years.

"These market changes in the European Union will mean greater competition for Jamaica from other lower-cost producers. We must, therefore, urgently turn its attention to exploiting the possibilities in the regional market for both raw and refined sugar, as well as increasing our productivity. This conference must address these imperatives," Clarke said.

One such is the fact that the EU is no longer treating countries outside of the sugar protocol differently and is in fact offering them the same duty and quota free market access, making it tough for Caribbean countries whose cost of production is unacceptably to high to make them competitive.

The region has already indicated its fear that the newer changes to the import regime could see total production from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific fall to 1.5 million metric tonnes from 3.5 million as is the case now. Pacific producers include Fiji and Mauritius. Caribbean EU sugar representative P. I Gomes says he even fears a total collapse of the ACP market in a decade if efforts to make the market as one big open place are sealed.

The London-based ISO group of countries account for about 86 percent of world sugar production, 69 percent of consumption, 95 percent of sugar exports and 41 percent of world sugar imports, making the most important such organization in the world.

The more than 100 delegates from 40 countries will also look at establishing new market frontiers, electricity co-generation in the form of ethanol, financing and research among other topics.