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 typically include African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, Brazil and Central American countries, which account for over 90% of exports8.
Following the UK’s exit from the EU in January 2021, the UK government introduced a tariff free quota (ATQ) allowing the import of raw cane sugar into the UK. This ATQ allows up to 260,000 tonnes of raw cane sugar to be imported tariff free annually, on the provision it is refined into white sugar. The impact of the ATQ is an increase of imports of raw cane sugar from Brazil. In 2021 there was a 164,000 tonnes year on year increase in raw sugar imports from Brazil with it contributing 49% of all raw sugar imports that year9. The majority of other imports are under duty free trade agreements UK-CARIFORUM, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA SACUM-UK EPA), and UK-Central America.
Currently, raw sugar supplies entering the UK are refined by T+L Sugars Ltd. (TLS) at their refinery in East London which has the potential installed capacity of 1.2 million tonnes annually10. TLS also operates a processing plant where it produces speciality sugar and syrup products11. TLS is owned by the American company, ASR Group International Inc.
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.
Following the removal of the EU quota system in 2017 and restrictions on the quantity of sugar beet that could be refined, it provided EU member states the opportunity to produce more sugar and to trade competitively in Europe and on the world market. Today, refined sugar imports into the UK vary year-on-year, but in general are in the region of between 18-31% of UK and ROI total demand. These imports mostly originate from the EU as beet sugar (over 90% imports of refined imports) but also include countries that refine cane sugar such as Mauritius, Brazil and India.