ACP-EU: Sugar protocol under pressure

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Sugar protocol under pressure
Mauritius has been the venue for two meetings of developing countries - the ACP trade ministers and now the G-90. The threat to the sugar protocol is at the core of the debate.

The sugar issue is still running high on the government’s agenda. The latter undertook to avail itself of all opportunities to make the case for sugar. It is in serious jeopardy with the forthcoming reform on the European Union (EU) sugar regime advocated by Agriculture commissioner Franz Fishler’s "leaked" proposal. The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries Trade ministers’ meeting during the weekend set the tone. The G90 conference that started yesterday will certainly build on it and look for the means to save as much as possible of the protocol. The G-90 is an alliance of the ACP group and the African Union countries.

The government is conscious that there are tough times ahead but remains confident that a solution will be found to reduce the plight of vulnerable economies. Deputy prime minister Pravind Jugnauth and Agriculture minister Nando Bodha went to several European capitals as part of an intensive campaign last week to meet various EU leaders. The goal was to make them understand that such a price reduction – 37% in the initial proposal – could have catastrophic consequences on the economy of all ACP countries. The purpose of the mission was to share our deep concern over the matter with traditional allies in Europe.

Commissioner Fischler has made it clear that a reform of the sugar protocol is inescapable. The difference between the price of sugar in Europe and on the world market is too important. EU commissioner for Trade, Danuta Hubner, who attended the ACP meeting confirmed this fact to the press on Sunday. "There is high probability that the proposals – as they are now – will be adopted." This will be verified tomorrow when Commissioner Fischler submits his proposal to the College of commissioners.

However, a glimmer of hope remains. Gregor Kreuzhuber, Franz Fischler’s spokesperson, explained that measures could be adopted to mitigate the effects of the drop in sugar prices. Such measures would involve most probably financial compensation to help sugar producers to face the situation – but also a less important reduction and a longer delay in the reform implementation. Danuta Hubner also made it clear that a fund could be set up to that effect. However, she says it is up to the ACP to come up with concrete proposals.

Jayen Cuttaree highlighted the importance of such measures in his speech at the opening of the ACP meeting. "We would like to remind our partners of the vital importance of basic products and of a foreseeable and secured commercial environment for our vulnerable economies."

The ACP countries have agreed to continue discussions with the EU even if they all appreciate that changes are bound to occur. However, they advocate that the EU cannot set about such a change without making up for it. "We are ready to accept change, adapt and modernise. We expect that the reform will help us in this direction. But it must not be a way of winding up our own reform."

The EU has thus been called upon to take its responsibilities concerning the sugar protocol. The Cotonou agreement contains a legal status and the EU has to abide by this provision.

Need for corrective measures

The ACP cabinet president, Adelaïde MoundeleNgolio, thinks, "Any questioning of the Cotonou agreement must involve appropriate corrective measures." The ACP countries are asking for another proof of EU commitment to promote solidarity and dialogue. Will European Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, who is arriving for the G-90 meeting this morning, be able to reassure them? Although Foreign affairs Minister Cuttaree asserted that he had spoken daily to the EU commissioner on the issue, he nevertheless declared. "The meeting will be an opportunity to express our worries." Even if the threat to the sugar protocol has been at the core of the debates, ministers, ambassadors and other officials present have also discussed other issues. The Trade ministers of all ACP countries have adopted a joint final motion for the next meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the end of the month in Geneva.

Next to their claims concerning agricultural products – the Doha declaration maintains that developing states should benefit from special treatment, the ACP countries also ask for corrective measures to compensate for the end of preferences. They believe that development should be at the centre of preoccupations as far as developing countries are concerned.

The concurrence of these two meetings has been a golden opportunity for Mauritius and all the developing countries to express and share their fears as well as to assert their common identity and destiny before the next WTO meeting.

13th July 2004