The European Union is the world’s leading producer of beet sugar, with around 50% of the total amount. However, beet sugar represents only 20% of the world’s sugar production, with the other 80% produced from sugar cane.
Most of the EU's sugar beet is grown in the northern half of Europe, where the climate is more suitable. The most competitive producing areas are in northern France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland. The EU also has an important refining industry that processes imported raw cane sugar.
EU sugar policy
Sugar is part of the common market organisation (CMO) between EU countries, which has several functions including providing a safety net to agricultural markets, cooperation through producer organisation and inter-branch organisations, and laying down minimum quality requirements.
Beet farmers can get income support in the form of direct payments that are largely decoupled. EU countries have also the possibility to grant voluntary coupled support to specific sectors in difficulty – including sugar beet and sugar cane production. Eleven EU countries have decided to grant voluntary coupled support for sugar beet producers.
EU sugar market policy focuses on two main areas: market measures and trade measures.
Market measures within the EU
The EU can support the sugar sector with specific market measures, in particular private storage aid, measures against market disturbance and measures to solve specific problems.
Private storage aid is granted when taking into account average recorded Union market prices, the reference thresholds and production costs. The European Commission may grant this aid in the case of a particularly difficult market situation or economic development having a significant negative impact on the margins of the sector in order to keep a certain volume of sugar out of the market during a certain period. The CMO rules foresee additional support measures in case of severe market disturbances due to sharp increase or decrease in prices, amongst others.
Trade with countries outside the EU
Trade policy is an exclusive power of the European Union – so only the EU, and not individual EU countries, can legislate on trade matters and conclude international trade agreements. International trade is also governed by rules of the World Trade Organisation.
As a major importer of cane sugar, the EU grants duty-free access to the EU market to developing countries under the "Everything but arms" agreement and economic partnership agreements with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Legal basis on sugar includes legislation on the common market organisation for agricultural products, quotas, imports and exports and other sugar legislation in force.
Regulation (EU) 1308/2013 – establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products
Key implementing legislation for sugar
Notifications to the Commission of information and documents
Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/760 – rules for the administration of import and export tariff quotas subject to licences
Commission Regulation (EC) 951/2006 – detailed rules regarding trade with third countries in the sugar sector
Council directive 2001/111/EC – relating to certain sugars intended for human consumption
The EU sugar market observatory provides a diversity of data and information on sugar, including balance sheets, market situation, short and medium term outlook, and the sugar market observatory meeting reports.
Various committees, composed of government representatives and chaired by a European Commission representative, meet regularly to ensure that the Commission's responsibility for adopting implementing acts is exercised under the control of EU countries.
The committee for common organisation of agricultural markets meets regularly to discuss areas such as the evolution of market prices, production and trade in the EU and non-EU countries.
High level group
On 19 November 2018, the Commissioner for agriculture and rural development announced the establishment of a High level expert group on sugar (HLG) at the AgriFish Council meeting.
The mandate of the HLG was twofold:
- to discuss the current market situation as well as EU countries' and stakeholders' concerns about the EU sugar market;
- to explore and evaluate possible solutions and policy measures as regards their effectiveness and suitability to tackle the problems identified.
The Director-General for Agriculture and Rural Development chaired the HLG, composed by representatives of all EU countries. The HLG held three meetings between January and June 2019.
The report summarises the work carried out by the HLG, it highlights the main issues identified, synthesises the main positions of EU countries, evaluates possible solutions and recommends a set of actions, from which the sector may benefit in the short and mid-term. The final report was discussed in the AgriFish Council of 15 July 2019.