Guyana: British leader reportedly pledges partial support of Caribbean leaders' EU sugar plan

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to support a proposal that would ease the impact of the European Union's planned cut in sugar prices for Caribbean producers by slowly phasing in tariff reforms, the Guyanese government said Tuesday.

The EU has proposed to slash the price of sugar 39 percent beginning next year, but sugar producers in the 78-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific trade group, or ACP, last week presented a proposal to EU agriculture ministers for a 19 percent reduction.

Blair, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, met with 10 Caribbean leaders on Tuesday. Blair promised that Britain "will seek to lengthen the transitional period for the EU sugar reform proposal, push for an increase in transitional assistance and examine the issue of greater market access for the Caribbean," Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo's office said in a statement.

It was not known whether leaders discussed the ACP's proposal to soften the price reduction to 19 percent from 39 percent. The World Trade Organization ruled last month that EU sugar subsidies make it impossible for producers in other countries to compete. If the European Union doesn't end the subsidies by May 22, 2006, it could face billions of dollars (euros) in sanctions, the AP reports.

The EU has offered the 19 ACP sugar producers US$40 million (Ђ34 million) to help cushion the impact of reform, but the ACP this month called the compensation "paltry." Total losses in export earnings for the ACP sugar group would be up to US$352 million (Ђ300 million) a year, the organization said. Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad _ the Caribbean's leading sugar producers _ say they will lose US$110 million (Ђ93 million) annually if prices are slashed 39 percent.


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