Sugar beet farmers in the UK have criticised the government’s proposals for reduced tariffs on imported cane sugar after Brexit, which campaigners point out directly benefits a Tory Brexit backer.
The government has announced the introduction of a new zero-tariff 260,0000-tonne Autonomous Tariff Quota (ATQ) for raw sugar coming into the UK at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Half of the sugar consumed in the UK comes from sugar beet farms, based mainly in East Anglia and across the East Midlands,
The other half is produced from sugar cane from tropical or sub-tropical nations, where concessions are offered to support the poorest, least-developed countries.
But as reported by the Eastern Daily Press, UK producers fear the new regime will open the doors for more raw sugar to be grown elsewhere in the world where food and employment standards are worse.
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The National Farmers’ Union say it will ‘distort competition in the sugar market and lead to unfair competition for UK growers’, with producers already suffering from the end of the EU quota system as a result of Brexit.
NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Slys aid: ‘The UK government’s new zero-tariff raw sugar quota is highly concerning, unjustified and unnecessary.
‘British sugar beet growers are some of the most efficient in the world but allowing tariff-free access to sugar from any country, produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK, will simply undercut UK growers and the standards they produce to. This quota system will also undermine the existing preferential access granted to developing countries.
‘We believe the government should urgently review this tariff and ensure that any imports under this tariff-free quota are produced to the same standards required of our growers.’
Greenpeace campaigners earlier this month claimed such proposals were ‘a sweet deal for a food giant with close ties to the Conservative party’, referencing Tate and Lyle Sugars, the only company currently importing raw sugar cane.
The company is one of the few large employers to publicly back Brexit, has had at least ten meetings with government ministers, and also donated £8,000 towards the running of the 2017 Tory party conference.
But Gerald Mason, senior vice president of Tate & Lyle Sugars, said it was ‘a complete fantasy’ that the firm wanted to import cheap, poorly-produced sugar. Acknowledging meetings with Tory donors the company said it has met with Labour and Lib Dem politicians too.
A spokesman for the Department for International Trade said the UK Global Tariff schedule is ‘tailored to the UK economy and designed to back British businesses, ensuring they compete on fair terms with the rest of the world.’
They added: ‘The UK Global Tariff retains tariffs on sugar products, while opening a new Autonomous Tariff Quota to ensure that supply is maintained while protecting developing country preferences. The government has always been clear that this ATQ will be reviewed in line with the UK’s suspensions policy in due course.’