The government has been warned to abandon its proposed tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar imports because of its potential to undercut UK growers.
There are plans to introduce a new zero tariff, 260,000 tonnes Autonomous Tariff Quota (ATQ) for raw sugar coming into the UK from 1 January 2021.
The Department for International Trade (DIT) opened a consultation on the plan, which closed for responses on Monday 5 October.
NFU Sugar responded to it, warning that imports were grown to production standards that would be illegal in the UK.
NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said the quota could lead to growers choosing not to grow the crop, threatening the sector's future.
Mr Sly said: “The proposals to introduce a huge tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar producers would undoubtedly have a significant impact on Britain’s 3,000 sugar beet growers.
"If it is introduced, it would see our farmers, who follow some of the most stringent regulations in the world, undercut by imported sugar produced in ways that would be illegal here."
He said that while the UK sugar industry was a 'true British success story', growers would not be able to compete with those who 'follow a different rulebook'.
Tariff-free sugar imports would distort the market for farmers and could force many to stop growing sugar beet completely, putting a successful British industry at risk.
"Years of efficiency gains and technological advances would be threatened. It would be an incredibly short-sighted move with grave ramifications," Mr Sly added.
“The UK currently provides some of the poorest countries in the world with important preferential market access to promote development through trade.
"Tariff-free access from anywhere in the world would be particularly damaging to the poorest cane producers in developing countries, largely in southern Africa."
He said these countries would lose the value of preferential access to the UK sugar market, contrary to the government’s stated manifesto commitment to ‘a free but fair’ international trade policy ‘in particular towards the developing nations’.
“We are urging the government to abandon these proposals and demonstrate that they are committed to upholding the standards British sugar beet growers produce to.
"There are better ways of achieving the UK’s trade policy aims than a blunt instrument that would damage a significant part of the rural economy,” Mr Sly said.
The DIT consultation closed for responses on Monday 5 October 2020.