SUVA, Fiji (Aug.10) - The recent World Trade Organisation ruling on sugar concerns the European Union’s subsidies on its exports of sugar and not the price the EU pays Sugar Protocol nations including Fiji.

Nevertheless, the news is not good. The WTO challenge brought principally by Australia, Brazil and Thailand had been defended by the EU since its launch in November 2002. Last week’s ruling will not affect the EU’s commitment to buy sugar from Fiji.

But the price the EU pays for that sugar is inevitably on the way down. Proposals being considered by the EU would, if implemented, lead to cut of up to 35 percent in the price paid to Fiji. And that is only the beginning. For while the commitment to import sugar under the protocol is open-ended, there can be no guarantee on price. Why should European taxpayers continue to pay an inflated price just to keep Fiji’s inefficient sugar industry afloat?

The writing is on the wall for those who wish to read it. The politicians (of all parties) who have been fiddling while this vital industry burned must now realize that their time is well and truly up.

If this industry is to survive at all, it will require sacrifice, hard work and, above all, unity.

The new chairman of the Fiji Sugar Corporation has already called for stakeholders to work together in the interest of the industry as a whole.

It is wise advice, which if followed, has at least a chance of preserving the livelihoods of thousands of families who depend on sugar for their very survival. It remains to be seen whether Ross McDonald’s advice will be heeded by the various players whose record as far as cooperation is concerned leaves much to be desired.

But now the chips are down. There is neither time nor space for political grandstanding (not that that will stop some politicians) and the industry must now take priority over party. The worst that can happen is that the politicians will now seek to outdo each other in protesting their innocence. "It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs" will be the cry. And we fear the worst.

August 11, 2004


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