Troubled Dominican sugar industry wants in on EU-Caribbean deal

Struggling to keep its sugar industry alive, the Dominican Republic is trying to join a European Union trade deal enjoyed by its Caribbean neighbors, an industry official said Thursday.

The once-dominant Dominican sugar industry has lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past 20 years. It will now lose millions of dollars (euros) worth of trade protections when the U.S.-backed Central American Free Trade Agreement takes effect in the coming months, said Manuel Dominguez, technical manager for the state-run Dominican Sugar Institute.

Local producers are looking to Europe for relief, hoping officials can increase the current European quota of 40,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons (44,100 to 55,100 tons) per year and benefit from the same preferential prices as producers like Guyana, Jamaica, Belize and Barbados.

Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso discussed the issue with European officials during a December visit to Brussels. He was scheduled to attend a conference of the 15-member Caribbean Community in Guyana on Saturday to talk about the proposal, the foreign ministry said.

It was not clear what the European Union would do, Dominguez said.

The EU's preferential prices are about US$3 a pound (Ђ5.1 a kilogram) higher than Dominican producers earn in Europe, even with the 36 percent cut to sugar subsidies that the European Union imposed last year at the request of the World Trade Organization, Dominguez said.

"This is creating a new option and thinking about a future," Dominguez said.

The move has angered members of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean, which said the Dominican Republic pledged decades ago not to hone in on the arrangement guaranteeing high prices to other former colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific, reports AP.

The association is worried about the impact the Dominican Republic's proposed changes could have on other Caribbean producers struggling to overcome the EU cuts.

"We are not going to support them getting into the sugar protocol and if they do, it should not be at the expense of our allocated quota," Guayanese Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud said Wednesday.

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