Government presses ahead with 'damaging' sugar import quota

Government has given the green light to a 260,00t tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar imports
Government has given the green light to a 260,00t tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar imports

The government will introduce a 260,00 tonne tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar following a consultation on the matter, despite fears it will undercut UK growers.

The Department for International Trade (DIT) announced this week the outcome of the raw cane sugar autonomous tariff rate quota (ATQ) review and consultation.

An ATQ of 260,000 tonnes for raw cane sugar imported into the UK will apply from 1 January 2021, as part of the new UK Global Tariff, the department confirmed.

This will be introduced regardless of the outcome of the UK's trade negotiations with the European Union.

ATQs allow imports up to a given quantity of a good to come in at a lower or zero tariff for a specified period of time.

The NFU has reacted to the development with 'serious concerns', warning that such imports were grown to production standards that would be illegal in the UK.

It added that the quota would 'undermine thousands of UK sugar beet growers', and 'seriously jeopardise the viability of the home-grown crop'.

But government analysis concluded that an ATQ with this volume would 'support' the UK’s raw cane sugar refining capacity, and 'promote consumer choice and competition' in the UK sugar market.

"This, in turn, will ensure the UK can act as a reliable market for raw cane sugar from developing countries and support free trade agreement negotiations," the DIT said.

NFU President Minette Batters responded by saying the ATQ would have an 'extremely detrimental effect' on the UK sugar sector.

“I am incredibly disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with an enormous tariff-free quota for raw sugar imports," she added.

“The government’s justification suggests that the price of sugar ‘would be no different’ as a result of the tariff-free quota but also that it ‘is in the interests of UK consumers’.

"It is hard to square these two assertions, and it is very difficult to understand what exactly this quota serves to achieve, apart from harming a successful home-grown industry.”

The government launched a public consultation on the ATQ, which ran from 14 September to 5 October 2020.