As Caribbean sugar producers prepare to face the end of the European Union’s (EU) quota management and the resulting fall in the international sugar price, they are being advised to focus on securing a Caribbean market for Caribbean sugar through the application of tariffs.
The quota management system comes to an end on Septem-ber 30, 2017 and those in the regional sugar industry expect that it will lead to lower prices and a decrease in sugar imports from the African Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP). At present, the EU is the largest market for Caribbean sugar.
A release from the Caricom Secretariat quoted Karl James, Chairman of the Sugar Associa-tion of the Caribbean as saying, “We now urgently need to refocus our attention on our own market here in the region.”
James reportedly urged Carib-bean governments to approve tariff protection for regional sugar so as to reduce the competition it faces from imported sugar.
“Governments around the world give tariff protection to their own sugar industries, yet in the Caribbean we are currently losing out to imported sugar from outside the region. It is time to modernise our approach to sugar. The net cost effect of tariff protection to consumers will be negligible but it will give our industry the ability to attract investment, mechanise the industry and provide quality jobs and a sustainable future for the sector,” James was quoted as saying.
He was speaking at the closing of a two-day workshop in Kingston, Jamaica on March 24. James and other members of the industry had presented to Caricom ministers a position paper for the future of the sugar sector.
“We urge our ministers to adopt the recommendations in the industry position paper we have published today and to take back control of the destiny of the industry,” James reportedly said. “The industry stands ready to play its part – and we have set out the ways in which we will work to create new efficiencies and productivity across the sector.”
According to the press release, Chris Bennett, Managing Direc-tor of the Caribbean Council said, “The exciting range of ideas and opportunity which have been presented by Caribbean industry specialists over the past two days demonstrates that Caribbean sugar can be a modern and high value component to the 21st century Caribbean economy.”
However, he noted that the framework for trade also needs to be modernised so as to reflect that the Caribbean no longer can or should depend on the EU market as a guaranteed buyer.
“The trade and tariff policies required are straightforward and applied all around the rest of the world – there is an urgent need for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy to put in place the equivalent protections as soon as possible,” he said.
The workshop was preceded by an opening ceremony at which Caricom Secretariat Pro-gramme Manager, Agriculture and Industry Nisa Surujbally, said that the ability of sugar industry in the region to survive past September 2017 will depend on a number of factors.
“Survivability…will in no small measure be a function of improved competitiveness, securing more remunerative markets, value addition, an enabling policy regime within the Caricom Single Market and Economy, and, not lastly, practical and pragmatic diversification options. I say this as a technical official while being acutely aware of the emotional associations we have with our region’s oldest economic sector. This industry is responsible for us being here and has coloured our history from colonisation, to slavery to indentureship and to independence. It is not an easy time! Now is crunch time”, she told the gathering.
Surujbally acknowledged that the operations of regional sugar industries have changed including the exit from the market of Trinidad and Tobago and St Kitts and Nevis before giving assurance of the Secretariat’s continued support to the sugar industry. This support is to be realized through its active participation in the dialogue and framing of the policy options for decision-makers.
She also stated that sugar still plays a vital role in the economies of Barbados, Belize, Jamaica and Guyana.
Sugar in Guyana is currently in dire straits. Sources told this newspaper earlier this month that the APNU+AFC government had realised that the sugar industry is not sustainable and cannot be saved as is.
In recent months, concerns have grown that neither the government nor the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) had a viable plan for restructuring the industry. Despite promises by both the Ministry of Agriculture and GuySuCo, workers of the Wales estate which ended sugar cultivation on December 31, last year are still to be told of options in their community. Many have rejected the proposal to travel on a daily basis to the Uitvlugt sugar estate to work.
The government is expected to soon roll out a plan for the ailing sector that includes keeping only three estates and privatizing the others.
Meanwhile, ministers responsible for sugar held their sixth meeting of Caricom Sugar Stakeholders one day after the policy workshop and discussed its key outcomes, the release said. A position paper is expected to be presented to the Council of Trade and Economic Develop-ment with recommendations on sustainability and competitiveness.