At yesterday’s annual meeting between trade unions and employers in the EU sugar sector, hosted by the European Commission in the framework of its social dialogue policy, the social partners expressed deep worries about risks and economic uncertainties ahead of the end of the quota system in 2017 and the absence of fair competition and a level playing field for their industry.
The renewed CAP policy for beet sugar means that from next year the EU will have one of the most liberal sugar markets 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 making producers in these countries artificially competitive, they are also fostering over-production that is dumped onto the world market at prices below the average costs of production. This dumping depresses world market prices and is aggravating excessive volatility on the world sugar market.
The EU white sugar price is moving closer to the world market price and is expected to track it in the coming years. A depressed and volatile world sugar market could therefore have serious consequences for employment in the beet sugar sector. As EU prices threaten to sink below local production costs, with potential serious negative consequences for the concerned workers and for their continued participation in work, the EU institutions and operators need to anticipate and organise 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 therefore call on the EU to push for a global agreement, involving all key players in the world sugar market, to end all subsidies and other trade-distorting policies affecting sugar. In that way, the EU will support a level playing field for the EU’s highly efficient sugar sector, with high-quality manufacturing jobs and which is respectful of the environment.
About 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, which derives 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