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Sugar: regulatory sweet nothings leave food and drink makers in limbo

By Jane Byrne , 02-Feb-2011
Last updated the 02-Feb-2011 at 12:09 GMT

Jazz singer Nina Simone’s plaintive, “I want a little sugar in my bowl”, will strike the right note with Europe’s beleaguered sugar industry.

Rapidly rising world sugar prices and production problems have left end user manufacturers worrying about supply problems.

So why has the European Commission failed to act decisively to resolve the problem?

The fear now among end user manufacturers is that Europe’s sugar supply could run out. But despite warnings since June from the food and drink trade lobby on the threats this posed to industry, the Commission has still not intervened.

It could already have alleviated the shortfall by releasing out-of-quota sugar onto the internal market and by opening up import tariffs on raw and white sugar.

Instead, the inconsistent signals being sent from Brussels have only served to increase the stress levels among Europe’s food and drink makers.

In October last year, EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos said the situation did not warrant regulatory intervention.

One month later, the Commission did move to suspend sugar import duties to make them cheaper. So, applause… relief all round then that the Commission was in touch with market realities?

No, Brussels announced a plan that only made matters worse.

Sending shockwaves through the industry, the Commission said it was set to export 350,000 tonnes of the out-of-quota ingredient out of Europe.

Hello export income, goodbye small and medium sized food and drink manufacturers stymied by a lack of sugar to meet production runs.

Empty supermarket shelves in Portugal in December - the Commission then admits tightness in supply.

And the swift reaction of the bloc’s regulators to this wake up call?

“Let’s delay things a little more,” seemed to be the response of the EU sugar management committee, as it announced a postponement of a decision on whether to issue export licences until January.

And this month saw that same committee saying it will move to consider releasing the out-of-quota tonnage onto the internal market and opening import quotas.

An industry in despair and uncertainty the only response from Brussels.

“Whatsa matter Daddy, Come on, save my soul, I need some sugar in my bowl. I ain't foolin'. I want some sugar in my bowl,” sang the jazz lady.

Perhaps not souls, but production lines and jobs require decisive intervention now by the Commission to ensure the market gets the sugar it needs.

Jane Byrne is senior editor of FoodProductionDaily.com. She has worked in print and online media for several years in Ireland, France and Switzerland. She claims her sweet tooth should not be considered a conflict of interest in this regard. If you would like to comment on this article, please email jane.byrne'at'decisionnews.com

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