Dutch sugar producers are joining forces in a bid to retain a 34-year-old European Union sugar quota ruling which supports European sugar beet growers and the sugar industry through a combination of guaranteed prices, a quota system and high import duties.

The ruling is being challenged at the World Trade Organisation by Brazil and Australia, which argue that the EU ruling promotes unfair competition in the world market.

Two of the Netherlands’ largest producers of sugar, Suiker Unie and CSM Suiker, have got together and formed a lobby group, the Platform Toekomst Suikermarket, to defend the ruling and protect it from change. They feel that the investment they have funnelled into their activities in recent years would be hugely undermined if the market fundamentally changed.

Adversaries of the ruling say it allows the EU to dump sugar on the world market, keeping prices on the open market artificially low and making it difficult for developing countries to compete. As such, it is not only sugar producers and trade representatives from Australia and Brazil that are protesting, but also development aid groups.

Questioning artificial support measures such as subsidies and quotas is very much in vogue at the moment. With the EU Common Agricultural Policy repeatedly in the spotlight, it was inevitable that the world’s attention would eventually turn to sugar.

The argument achieved public awareness recently when 5,000 sacks of subsidised EU sugar were dumped in Sydney harbour in a symbolic protest against the ruling.