By Chris Horseman
The UK is committed to retaining a mix of both beet and cane sugar supplies after it leaves the EU, a Government Trade Minister has said.
Although the UK will no longer be bound by EU rules which limit imports of cheaper cane sugar after Brexit, the Government will choose to pursue a strategy under which cane and beet sugar will be ’able to compete on an equal basis’ according to the Minister of State for Trade Policy, Greg Hands.
In evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee this week, Mr Hands said the UK sugar beet sector was ’one of the most competitive in the world’.
But he added: “The UK Government strongly believes that having at least two sources of sugar is good for competitiveness, and that cane and beet sugar should be able to compete on an equal basis.”
UK sugar refinery Tate and Lyle has long been critical of EU sugar trade policy, which limits access to raw cane sugar from globally competitive suppliers such Brazil, and the company actively campaigned in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
But this has led to concerns from domestic beet growers that the UK Government might scale back or abandon its support for domestic beet suppliers if the country were to opt for a laissez-faire approach to sugar imports.
The Minister of State offered little detail as to the future shape of UK sugar policy, promising only that there would be continuing support for UK beet growers.
But in a clear signal that public health considerations would play a greater role than before, Mr Hands added: “While the UK Government strongly supports our sugar industry, domestic per capita sugar consumption exceeds recommended levels contributing to weight gain and obesity.
"The Government is taking forward measures to reduce sugar consumption, including the soft drinks levy.”
He also stressed the Government was ’mindful of its commitments to development’, and said it was ’actively looking’ at ways to support cane producers in developing countries such as Belize and Fiji which currently enjoy preferential access to the UK market via EU preferential arrangements.