Brussels, 2 March 2016 - At yesterday’s EC annual meeting between trade unions and employers in the EU sugar sector, the social partners expressed deep worries about the risks and economic uncertainties ahead of the end of the quota system in 2017, compounded by unfair competition and an uneven playing field.
The new CAP policy for beet sugar will result in the EU sugar market becoming one of the most liberal in the world. Meanwhile, other major sugar-exporting countries such as Brazil, India and Thailand are maintaining and even increasing measures to protect and subsidise their cane and sugar industries.
Not only are such policies creating artificial competition among producers in these countries, they are also fostering over-production, which is then dumped onto the world market at prices below the average costs of production. This dumping depresses world market prices and causes excessive volatility on the international sugar market.
White sugar prices in the EU are moving closer to global market prices and are expected to overlap in the coming years. A depressed and volatile global sugar market could therefore have serious consequences on employment in the beet sugar sector. As EU prices threaten to sink below local production costs, with potential grievous outcomes for workers, the EU institutions and operators need to anticipate this crisis, and draft socially acceptable responses.
The EU beet sugar sector is one of the most competitive in the world. Over the past 25 years, the industry has managed to consistently reduce production costs relative to inflation. However, without a level playing field our industry is left at the mercy of the unaccountable and trade-distorting policies of the major sugar producers.
One of the European Union’s key goals is to strive towards “the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment …” (Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union). Work is undeniably a fundamental activity in achieving that goal and shaping societal progress.
The social partners of the sugar sector call on the EU to push for a global agreement, involving all key players in the world sugar market, in order to end all subsidies and trade-distorting policies. By doing so, the EU will be supporting a level playing field for its sugar sector, providing high-quality manufacturing jobs and respecting the environment.
The social partners and social dialogue in the EU sugar sector
The EU sugar sector is one of the few food industries in Europe and the world to have developed a compulsory Code of Conduct on corporate social responsibility (CSR) matters. At their annual meeting on 1 March 2016, the social partners adopted their 13th annual CSR implementation report, stemming from the Code of Conduct signed by labour unions and sugar companies in 2003. The report, along with further information about social dialogue and good social practices, can be found on the following websites: www.sugardialogue.eu | www.sustainablesugar.eu
Estelle Brentnall (EFFAT, +32 2 209 62 69, E.Brentnall@effat.org)
Oscar Ruiz (CEFS, +32 2 774 51 07, Oscar.Ruiz@cefs.org).