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Inside Parliament: The battle to protect Tate & Lyle Silvertown goes on

14:00 28 September 2012

Inside Parliament: Exclusive Column from East Ham MP Stephen Timms

Inside Parliament: This week’s column from East Ham MP Stephen Timms.

Last week, I visited the European Agriculture Commissioner, Mr Ciolos, in Brussels. I was there to challenge European rules limiting the amount of cane sugar Tate & Lyle can obtain, even though there is a European sugar shortage. Jobs have been lost at Silvertown, and the future of the refinery could be at risk.

I was disappointed not to meet the Commissioner himself. I have been asking for a meeting for six months. Instead I met one of his officials, a friendly Welshman, but didn’t get much joy.

Europe’s sugar rules used to keep the price of sugar in Europe above the world market price, so it was worthwhile to grow sugar beet in Europe. The Commission changed the rules in 2006. In a letter to me last May, they claimed the result was: “a better deal for consumers and taxpayers and a more focused and competitive EU sugar industry”. They point out that the gap between the world and European sugar prices is less than in 2006, so European consumers get a better deal.

But I pointed out to them that the gap has risen sharply over the past two years. The problem their new rules were supposed to fix is now getting much worse. When a sugar shortage emerged, the Commission forced refiners like Tate & Lyle to pay a very high duty on extra cane imports. That forced the sugar price up. Beet producers were allowed to obtain extra sugar beet for much less, in some cases paying no duty at all. With the high sugar price, they have enjoyed huge profits.

In 2015, the rules will change again. I shall be campaigning for the new rules to be fairer, so that consumers don’t keep being ripped off, and that, after 140 years, cane refining in Newham can continue.

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