UK-Australia trade deal: The view from NFU Sugar board chair Michael Sly

Published 09 July 2021

NFU Sugar International trade
Sugar beet - Michael Sly

Firstly, before I raise some very real issues about future UK trade deals, I must say that we get on extremely well and have a good working relationship with our fellow sugar growing friends in Australia. Indeed, NFU Sugar has learned a lot through our close relationship with them - not least the innovation of the futures-linked sugar beet contract which has already delivered significant value to UK beet growers. However, I am incredibly concerned by the potential introduction of tariff-free, quota-free access to the UK market for Australian sugar.

Our issue is with the UK government failing to recognise the significant impacts there will be on sugar beet growers in Eastern England. The typical justification for the benefits of free trade does not stand up in this case, since UK growers are subject to such different regulatory standards compared to our Australian cane growing friends. The UK is one of the most efficient sugar producers in the world, so by all accounts should be well placed to compete with growers anywhere if we had access to the same tools and technologies. But British growers cannot compete against growers who follow a different rulebook.

For example, Australian sugar cane growers have access to an armoury of plant protection products containing over 30 active ingredients which are illegal for any outdoor use in the UK. This includes 13 which have actively been withdrawn and banned from use in the UK. It is completely unsustainable to expect UK beet growers to be able to compete with cane growers in Australia, when growers here have a significantly narrower toolbox to draw on to tackle weeds, pests and diseases. By producing sugar in ways which would be illegal in the UK, Australian growers are able to reduce costs of production in a manner that UK growers are banned from doing.

Furthermore, the UK is set to become possibly the only country with any significant domestic sugar industry which allows completely free access for Australian sugar. For sugar to be included within the UK-Australia FTA is incredibly unusual. Indeed, tariffs have remained on sugar in Australia’s trade deals with Japan and the USA. Both of these sugar-producing countries are, like us, net importers. Surely the UK should have the same safeguards to ensure British sugar growers can continue to thrive?

Needless to say, on your behalf we will continue to make the case to the highest levels of government that any trade deal must not undermine our ability to compete.

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