EDITORIAL: ACP’s bitterness over EU’s policy on sugar trade
New tension on an old issue of trade has arisen between the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries and the European Union (EU). And it happens to involve sugar as the cause for political bitterness.
While once a major source of employment and foreign exchange for ACP sugar-producing states – Barbados among them – there have been fluctuating fortunes for the commodity under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
However, when the 28-member EU chose to be inflexible in its pursuit to reform the CAP by the scuttling of quotas from traditional sugar exporting states from 2017 – instead of 2010 – the development had an immediate negative impact for the affected economies.
Last week, when the 13th ACP Ministerial Meeting on Sugar of the 78-member ACP group took place in Fiji, there was understandable deep disappointment for ACP representatives.
First, as the ministerial meeting pointed out, there was the expectation, following their last conference in 2011, that the EU’s decision to abolish the quota system on sugar imports would be effective from 2020.
They have also cited interventions by the European Parliament and European sugar stakeholders for an extension of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to cover the nine-year (2012-2020) period. But, regrettably, to no avail – so far.
The ministers, aided by their ambassadors and other technical advisers, have nevertheless underscored the fact that the sugar-producing countries are small, with vulnerable economies, and that the EU’s inflexible stand is contrary to the spirit of earlier stated commitment to both the Lisbon Treaty and the Cotonou Agreement to guard against “further erosion of preferences” in the series of new free trade agreements currently being negotiated with other parties.
The ACP ministerial conference on sugar also opted to call on the European Commission (EC) to “exercise flexibility” with respect to ongoing negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU to avoid the loss of market access to the EU for those countries that might not have completed negotiations in time for necessary legislation to be in place by September 2014.
It would be recalled in this region, and not just by the sugar-exporting countries, that CARICOM member states and the Dominican Republic were the first to controversially sign an EPA/EU accord in Barbados in October 2008. It was done amid still lingering concerns over the EPA’s compatibility with rules of the World Trade Organisation.
The question of immediate relevance at this stage is whether the decision-makers of the EU are disposed to objectively consider the plea of ACP nations, or to simply leave them to suffer the negative consequences of the abolition of sugar quotas from 2017.