The UK refining industry is supplied from raw sugar which has already been extracted from cane and partly processed in the originating countries’ cane mills. Raw sugar in this partly finished state is imported from a variety of cane sugar producing countries. The mix of raw sugar supplying countries changes from year to year depending on availability and commercial considerations, but normally includes: African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and Least Developed Countries (LDC), Brazil, Central and South America, and Australia.
In addition to the increased EU access for zero and low tariff imports, EU import rules also allow tariff-free import and refining of world market sugars provided the resulting products are exported outside the EU.
To support globally competitive refiners, EU import laws allow tariff free refining of world sugars for world market sales.
Raw sugar supplies entering the UK are refined by T+L Sugars Ltd. (TLS) at their refinery at Silvertown in East London. The refinery has a potential installed capacity of 1.2 million tonnes annually10, but has been operating at a lower level than this in recent years11 due to competitive pressures from other refiners and technology developments in some of the cane sugar supplying countries. TLS also operates a specialist processing plant close to the refinery at Plaistow Wharf, which produces speciality sugar and syrup products12. TLS is owned by ASR Group International Inc. (ASR).
Sugar can also be imported into the UK in the form of refined white sugar and other specialist finished products. As part of the 2006 sugar policy reform, import and refining practices were liberalised – most imports were previously restricted to raw sugar and reserved for full-time refiners.
This encouraged some cane sugar producers like Mauritius13 to invest in refining technology in their home country, so enabling them to supply refined, instead of raw, sugar and capture a greater proportion of the added value.
Imports of this kind no longer need to be refined at destination, and can be supplied direct to customers. Although this change does not reduce the overall level of imports, it has contributed to the competitive pressure on refiners.