Examination of witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2000
BROWN and MS
80. The reason I asked that was, with the benefit
of my memory of the regime, which was that once again when it
was a question of quotas being handed out within the European
Union we did not feel we had had a particularly fair deal. Although
there is not the prospect of immediate quota cuts, it is likely
to be something which will happen in the future. Given the remarks
you made where you said you wanted to see a good balance between
beet and cane, do you actually think that it would be fair to
the United Kingdom, because of our rather unusual structure of
market versus some other Community countries, for us to suffer
any quota cuts in future?
(Ms Quin) I should prefer to move away from quotas
altogether because that could help us. We are competitive within
the European Market but having this very dirigiste system regarding
sugar means that when quotas are reduced it tends to be an across-the-board
quota reduction because you cannot get agreement among the countries
concerned to give up quotas and therefore it tends to be a proportionate
cut across the board. I do understand from my advisers who perhaps
have longer memories of dealing with the sugar regime than I have,
that the current regime was established as long ago as 1968, so
my 15 to 20 years was an underestimate. However UK quotas were
cut in 1981 because apparently the UK failed to meet them.
81. Could you put this in a wider context, that
in the context of the World Trade Organisation and Seattle, these
proposals are seen as part of confidence-building measures to
try to get the World Trade Organisation and its next round under
way again, and that it is very important to tell these least-developed
countries that there is something in the World Trade Organisation
for them? Would it not be true to say that if these proposals
start being phased in, or attacked or undermined, this is likely
to be very damaging to the World Trade Organisation which we are
seeking to support if we cannot introduce a proposal as modest
as this without weakening it very considerably?
(Ms Quin) The proposals show, that there is a keenness
on the part of the European Union and other developed countries
and groups, to try to prepare a new WTO round in circumstances
where there is more likely to be engagement by the developing
countries, and where we are most likely to be able to start off
on a positive note and therefore be more likely to achieve progress.
However, even if there were not that impetus, there is a very
strong feeling in the European Union countries that more needs
to be done to help the least developed countries in the world
82. May I come back to the question of price
of sugar? Does this not all revolve round price when it comes
down to it? If under the EBA, contrary to the expectations of
Mr Caborn, the least-developed countries, in particular Tanzania,
Malawi, Mozambique, which come to mind because they are very efficient
converters of sugar cane into sugar, were able to increase the
amount of tonnage to very much greater figures than we now import,
that would have an effect in a free market on price. Do you expect
therefore that this will be an added reason for the reduction
in the European support price, thus making the sugar regime in
the end useless to any producer?
(Ms Quin) It does add to the pressure for a reform
of the sugar regime, including a reform of the price fixing mechanisms.
Again, a lot depends on how quickly least-developed countries
respond to what is on offer under the "everything but arms"
agreement. I have to say that I do agree with what Richard Caborn
was saying earlier and indeed what I understood the International
Development Secretary to be saying recently that given that a
great increase from the least-developed countries would depend
on investment in those countries, the process is likely to take
83. Yes, but I do not think quite as long a
time as you are desperately hoping for. After all, you can get
sugar into production in very large quantities in African countries,
both on East and West Coast within three or four years.
(Ms Quin) I am not desperately hoping. I know this
is repetitious but the fact that there is a transitional agreement
and a safeguard clause is an important element to take into account.
84. Have you not rather beaten around the bush
about the character of the sugar regime as it is? You have said
it has been largely unreformed for 30-odd years, it is a highly
protected duopoly, typical to be honest of the developed world,
in sugar and it produces a dumping regime in which surplus product
depresses the world market for those outside the club. This desperately
needs radical reform, does it not?
(Ms Quin) I think that is what I have said. I did
not think I had beaten about the bush in terms of that statement.
85. I am just putting it in rather harsher terms
than you have. Would you agree with those terms?
(Ms Quin) I have always strongly believed that the
sugar regime in its current form is indefensible. However, I have
to say that there are many very strong interests in a large number
of Member States in favour of its continuation and therefore to
hold out the prospect of an immediate change overnight would be
unrealistic on my part.
Chairman: I shall not beat about the bush in
bringing this evidence session to a close by thanking you and
your colleagues very much for this new experience for us all.
I am sure we shall take good benefit from it and I am sure each
of our Committees will look forward to trying some venture like
this in the future. Thank you very much.