ECONOMY

EU urged to shorten sugar ban

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Greece’s Hellenic Sugar, Italian SFIR and Serbian MK Commerce yesterday joined forces to urge the European Union to reconsider and shorten an export ban from Serbia, saying it would have a disastrous effect on the sector. The companies said they would accept international control of their sugar exports which they agreed to limit to 160,000 tons. The three firms, which together own eight Serbian sugar plants with 400,000 tons’ annual capacity, also urged the Serbian government to raise import duty on sugar from the EU to protect the domestic market. In May, the EU banned Serbia and Montenegro sugar exports to the bloc under a 2001 scheme allowing Albania, Bosnia, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to sell its home-produced sugar free of duty and quotas. It said the country had no viable customs system to stop abuse of the EU perks, as suspected by the EU. In the last months, Serbia has defined strict export-import procedures and established border crossings for sugar trade but the EU in August extended the ban until February 2004, saying it wanted to see the system functioning. «There has been no significant change in the situation in Serbia and Montenegro with regard to the deficiencies found in their system of certification and control of the preferential origin of sugar, despite the ongoing efforts of the authorities,» the EU said in a notice published in its official journal on July 29. SFIR Chairman Mario Riciputi said the existing ban would cause economic and financial trouble to all. «To wait until February is too late for us. International traders must know much earlier if they can buy from Serbia or not.» Vassilios Papayiannis, Hellenic Sugar president, said: «The danger is that the crisis in the sugar industry caused by bad weather and the EU ban can deepen further, hitting farmers, employees and finally us, the investors.»