EU rules on sugar are making the EU’s sugar refineries unviable with thousands of highly-skilled jobs at risk across Europe. London Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis has led the charge against the European Commission’s competition-distorting rules. She, along with 61 MEPs from 11 countries, has today written to EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş calling for a level playing field for both cane and beet refiners.

Marina said: “The European Union spends a lot of time talking about growth and jobs. However, when it comes to protecting existing jobs or promoting growth in the EU sugar sector the Commission is sticking to its rigid import regulations and economically threatening Europe’s cane refiners.

“Thousands of jobs are at stake in some of the most economically deprived areas of the EU, including in the Silvertown area of my London constituency. Of course I want to protect British jobs, but the Commission needs to realise that this is not just an issue for the UK and I hope that the large number of MEPs from different countries signing up to this letter is testament to that.

“We are not asking for special treatment for cane refiners, just a level playing field so that they may remain economically viable. Independent reports have shown that the 2006 EU sugar reforms have favoured beet over cane, with new proposals threatening to exacerbate the situation.

“This will not only hurt European refiners, but sugar cane producers in the developing world will also be squeezed out. Why spend so much EU money on structural funds and development assistance when we can promote jobs at home and abroad by increasing opportunities to import cane sugar?”

The letter was also signed by Paolo De Castro MEP, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development as well as Janusz Wojciechowski MEP, the committee’s vice chair.

A list of the MEPs who signed the letter is attached. All London MEPs signed the letter apart from the Green Party’s Jean Lambert, who said that it would not in line with the Green group’s policy, and Gerard Batten who said that he had “advised Tate & Lyle that the only permanent solution to the problem is British withdrawal from the EU.”

Text of letter

Dear Commissioner Cioloş,

We are writing to you to express our concern at the treatment of cane sugar refiners in our Member States under the management of the EU sugar market.

Cane refiners provide more than 4,500 highly skilled manufacturing jobs in some of the most deprived areas of the EU. They bring competition and consumer choice to the market whilst also contributing to food security. In some of our Member States, they are the only local sugar production. Critically, they also provide a stable and long-term market for cane sugar exports from the developing world throughEurope’s various preferential trade agreements.

We can understand why EU policy should not favour cane refiners. That is not what we are asking for. What we cannot understand is why EU policy appears to treat cane refiners unfairly, with EU policies appearing to make a business model that would be competitive in a market sense unsustainable.

As you know, the crisis in Europe’s sugar market in recent years has almost solely been down to imports from preferential suppliers falling below that forecast by the EU Commission when the current legislation was designed in 2005. Beet and isoglucose quotas have been almost wholly filled. The consequence of this is that cane refiners in our Member States face a severe shortage of raw material. This is unsustainable and has already forced many refineries to temporarily close down and some to reduce their skilled manufacturing workforce.

The public policy issue at stake here is that the automatic mechanism that ensured cane refiners had fair access to supply was removed in 2009. This was based on the assumption that cane imports from preferential suppliers would near double and plentiful supply would be available to everyone, including new entrants to the industry that the 2009 change in public policy encouraged. Most ofEurope’s new cane refining capability is a result of beet processors diversifying into cane refining due to the policy choice. The cane imports have not near doubled and so cane refiners in our Member States cannot access enough raw sugar to operate their refineries sustainably.

The situation has required the Commission to use emergency powers to release more than two million tonnes of sugar on to the market in the last two years. However, we consider that in both volume and value terms the solutions have been unfair to cane refiners, especially since the deficit has arisen almost solely due to a lack of cane imports versus the forecast that public policy was based on.

One common misconception is that imports in 2010/11 reached 4 million tonnes, and so cane refiners should be well supplied. This fails to recognise that nearly 50 percent of this volume was refined sugar. Much of this refined sugar was imported in processed food products, and from refineries outside of the EU as part of your emergency measures.

Whilst not contesting the rights of preferential suppliers to export white cane sugar toEurope, it surely has to be a point of fairness that cane refineries in our member states should at least be given access to raw material to compete fairly in the market with non-preferential refined sugar imports from refineries outside the EU.

Until 2015, with imports unlikely to grow significantly from the preferential suppliers, the Commission will continue to take measures each year to fill the hole left by the shortage of preferential cane sugar imports. Cane sugar refiners, as European manufacturing business located in our Member States, deserve fair access to raw material. We are not asking for special treatment – just fair treatment. We ask you to implement the only equitable solution, which is to make good the volumes from other raw sugar exporters that can supply, and to make that supply free of import duty.

List of MEPs who signed the letter

Country Name of MEP   Political Group/Party
Bulgaria Binev Slavi NI
Bulgaria Iotova Iliana S&D
Bulgaria Kalfin Ivailo S&D
Bulgaria Nedelcheva Mariya EPP *
Bulgaria Parvanova Antonyia ALDE
Bulgaria Panayotov Vladko ALDE
Bulgaria Stoyanov Dimitar NI *
Bulgaria Urutchev Vladimir EPP
Cyprus Theocharous Eleni EPP
Czech Republic Češková Andrea ECR
Czech Republic Ouzký Miroslav ECR
Czech Republic Tošenovský Evžen ECR
Finland Essayah Sari EPP
Ireland Childers Nessa S&D
Italy De Castro Paolo S&D *
Netherlands van Dalen Peter ECR
Poland Migalski Marek ECR
Poland Wojciechowski Janusz ECR *
Portugal Alves Luis Paulo S&D *
Portugal Bastos Regina EPP
Portugal Capoulas Santos Luis Manuel ALDE *
Portugal Correia De Campos Antonio ALDE
Portugal Feio Diogo EPP
Portugal Fernandes José Manuel EPP
Portugal Patrão Neves Maria EPP
Portugal Rangel Paulo EPP
Portugal Teixeira Nuno EPP
Romania Becali George NI
Romania Niculescu Rareş-Lucian EPP *
Romania Severin Adrian NI
Romania Vălean Adina-Ioana ALDE
UK Agnew Stuart UKIP (EFD) *
UK Ashworth Richard Conservative (ECR) *
UK Bearder Catherine Liberal-Democrat (ALDE)
UK Bradbourn Philip Conservative (ECR)
UK Bufton John UKIP (EFD)
UK Callanan Martin Conservative (ECR)
UK Campbell Bannerman David Conservative (ECR)
UK Cashman Michael Labour (S&D)
UK Chichester Giles Conservative (ECR)
UK Dartmouth William UKIP (EFD)
UK Deva Nirj Conservative (ECR)
UK Elles James Conservative (ECR)
UK Foster Jacqueline Conservative (ECR)
UK Fox Ashley Conservative (ECR)
UK Honeyball Mary Labour (S&D)
UK Kamall Syed Conservative (ECR)
UK Karim Sajjad Conservative (ECR)
UK Kirkhope Timothy Conservative (ECR)
UK Ludford Sarah Liberal-Democrat (ALDE)
UK Lyon George Liberal-Democrat (ALDE) *
UK Martin David Labour (S&D)
UK McAvan Linda Labour (S&D)
UK McIntyre Anthea Conservative (ECR) *
UK Moraes Claude Labour (S&D)
UK Nicholson Jim Ulster Conservatives and Unionists  (ECR) *
UK Simpson Brian Labour (S&D) *
UK Stevenson Struan Conservative (ECR)
UK Stihler Catherine Labour (S&D)
UK Sturdy Robert Conservative (ECR) *
UK Tannock Charles Conservative (ECR)
UK Yannakoudakis Marina Conservative (ECR)

*indicates member of Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development

Location of sugar cane refineries in the EU

Country Refinery City
Bulgaria Zahar Bio AD, Ruse Ruse
Bulgaria Devnenski zaharen zavod EOOD Devnya
Bulgaria Burgaski zaharen zavod EAD Burgas
Bulgaria Bulgarska zahar 2002 OOD Dolna Mitropolia
Bulgaria Zaharen kombinat Plovdiv AD Plovdiv
Bulgaria Zahar EAD Stara Zagora
Finland Suomen Sokeri Oy Porkkala
France Sant Louis Sucre Marseille
Italy SFIR Raffineria di Brindisi S.p.A Brindisi
Portugal SIDUL Açucares Unipessoal, Lda. Santa Iria de Azóia
Portugal RAR – Refinarias de Açúcar Reunidas Porto
Portugal DAI – Soc. de Desenvolvimento Agro Industrial Coruche
Romania S.C. Zaharul Lieşti S.A. Lieşti
Romania S.C. Lemarco Cristal S.R.L. Ialomiţa
Romania S.C. Agrana Roman Roman
Romania S.C. Agrana Buzău Buzău
Romania S.C. Agrana Ţăndărei Ţăndărei
Spain Azucarera Ebro Guadalete
UK Tate & Lyle Sugars London