African, Caribbean and Pacific ministers to meet European officials on sugar deal

Ministers from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries who face losing European subsidies that had bolstered their sugar industries want to meet top European officials.

The agriculture and trade ministers from 19 African, Caribbean and Pacific ministers plan to hold an urgent summit that includes current European Union presidency holder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, they said in a statement Sunday at the end of a four-day meeting with European Commission and sugar industry officials to discuss the EU plans, the AP says.

The statement did not give a date for the summit.

The EU aims to slash preferential prices paid for sugar from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries by 39 percent over the next four years. The World Trade Organization had ruled EU subsidies for sugar producers broke international trade rules, siding with rival sugar producers of Brazil, Australia and Thailand.

The African, Caribbean and Pacific ministers said the planned cuts "go far beyond the requirement to meet the EU's likely WTO commitments."

The ministers said that they acknowledged their sugar industries needed reform, "but this must be achieved at their own pace."

"The Commission's proposal in its present form has far reaching consequences including the destruction of their (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) sugar industries .... In particular, it will impact negatively on their social fabric, employment and security," the statement said.

As part of the phasing out of the preferential prices, the European Union has offered aid to help poor countries make their sugar industries more competitive. But the ministers said that the EU offer was inadequate.

The offer, "amounting to Ђ40 million (US$48.5 million) in the first and an unspecified amount in subsequent years, is utterly inadequate to provide the (African, Caribbean and Pacific) states with bankable assurances necessary to modernize, restructure and improve their competitiveness," the statement said.

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