Sugar

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th October 2002.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 11:30 am, 17th October 2002

What recent assessment she has made of the impact of the sugar regime on (a) UK consumers and (b) developing country exporters.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government fully support the case for reform of the EU sugar regime, particularly in respect of price and market access.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Does the Minister agree that the present system is extremely attractive to large beet growers and to the company which has a virtual monopoly of processing, but is extremely damaging to consumers, taxpayers and, above all, large numbers of very poor people in low income countries, who are trying to sell into a world market where the price is a third of that in Europe? As the first step to the reform which he acknowledges is needed, will he join me in supporting Oxfam's demand for an immediate 25 per cent. cut in quota production?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The UK is a leading advocate of the need for sugar reform, and I acknowledge that the current regime distorts international trade, and that that is to the detriment of many potential developing country suppliers. The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter on a number of occasions and he is right to do so. The specific proposals from Oxfam need to be dealt with by international agreement, and we will continue to press for that agreement and for the change and reform of the system.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

As the Minister is aware, the UK is not self-sufficient in sugar production. As Dr. Cable pointed out, it is not just a matter of rich farmers in East Anglia who are no longer making a profit. The issue affects all the add-on jobs in sugar beet factories, transport, haulage, subcontracting and other service industries, where many jobs are at stake. Will the Minister bear in mind the key point that this country is not self-sufficient in sugar production?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Of course we are concerned about the sugar industry in this country, but it is unacceptable that the EU prices are currently three or four times the world level of prices. That is why early decisions are needed on the reform, so that all interested parties, including those in this country and in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries—the preferential suppliers—are able to plan ahead. We need the reform to take place as quickly as possible.