Trade unions against EU price cut
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Trade unions which represent sugar industry employees plan to stage peaceful demonstrations outside the European Union delegation offices this week to help press Jamaica’s case for more time to adjust to Europe’s planned sharp reduction in the price it pays Caribbean countries for sugar.
The unions - the National Workers Union (NWU), the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) - also intend to take their protests to the embassies of EU members in Jamaica - France, Germany and Britain, officials said.
MORRISON. we believe we should lend our support to government
"We believe we should lend our support to government," said Vincent Morrison, the island supervisor of the NWU, one of the unions coordinating the protest. "We want to translate that support in some practical way."
Jamaica’s sugar industry employs an estimated 40,000 people directly and tens of thousands more people in rural communities depend on the industry. Officials fear that a precipitate reduction in sugar prices could cause turmoil in these communities.
But even as Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) make a case for the EU to rethink its three-year timetable to slash by 37 per cent the prices it pays for sugar imported from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with which it has a trade and aid agreement, Prime Minister P J Patterson yesterday warned farmers that the days of preferences were numbered.
"We have to accept the hard facts that the days of preferential trading arrangements are over," Patterson said at an annual farm show at Denbigh, Clarendon.
At the same time, though, Patterson insisted that countries like Jamaica had to continue to fight in institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ensure that in the process of globalisation they are not "relegated to the scrap heap of history".
"We have. to resist any attempt by dominant forces in today’s world to create new inequities under a different guise," the prime minister said.
The price that ACP members receive for sugar they sell to Europe has traditionally been linked to what EU nations pay their own beet sugar producers.
But in June the European Commission, responding to complaints of long-standing preferential arrangement and as part of its own agricultural reform plan, announced that it will reduce the price of ACP sugar by 37 per cent by 2007.
Caricom sugar producers, which are part of the arrangement, complain that the move will cost them about US$90 million in revenues, but that more critically, the three-year time table would leave them too little time to adjust their industries.
For instance Jamaica, which has an EU sugar quota of 126,000 tons a year, produces the commodity at about 23 US cents per pound - or about three times the price of world market sugar.
However, officials here say that for the country to be able to compete in a market without preferences and big subsidies to first-world manufacturers, Jamaica would need to produce its sugar at between 12 US cents and 14 US cents per pound.
They would require time to achieve this further reduction and to put in place alternatives to sugar production.
It is expected that a Caricom delegation, including Jamaica’s foreign affairs and foreign trade minister, K D Knight, will soon head to EU capitals to press the case. The issue will also be at the centre of negotiations between the EU and regional blocs with which it is to negotiate a series of Regional Economic Partnership Agreements (REPAs) to replace the Cotonou Agreement with the wider ACP group.
The NWU’s Morrison told the Observer yesterday that he and his trade union colleagues, Dr Trevor Munroe of the UAWU and Wycliffe Matthews of the BITU hope to carry Jamaica’s version of the message to EU ambassadors in Kingston during the protest, the first of which is expected on Thursday.
Morrison suggested that a 10-year transition period would probably be what Jamaican trade unions would consider feasible for the sugar sector.
"A reduction in price is gong to mean less money to the farmer, less for the industry, less money for the workers and less money for everybody," said Morrison. "...If that is the situation, it means less jobs and the communities that depend on sugar will be severely affected."