* Lower African output contributes to import slowdown
* Sugar users seek measures to boost EU supplies
By Ana Ionova
GENEVA, April 24 EU sugar imports are running
behind last season, a European Commission official said on
Monday, with supplies expected to fall to their lowest level in
six years before the bloc liberalises its regime in October.
Applications for import licenses under the preferential
Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) and Everything But Arms
(EBA) schemes stood at 766,000 tonnes as of April, Miguel Garcia
Navarro, the Commission's head of sugar and olive oil said.
The Commission now sees import totals under these schemes
for the season at 1.360 million tonnes, down from a previous
forecast of 1.625 million tonnes.
"We are running behind last year's levels," Navarro told the
Kingsman EU Sugar Seminar.
The slowdown is mainly due to lower output in African
producing countries this year, coupled with lacklustre European
Union demand as it approaches sharply higher production from
Brazilian raw sugar imports under the CXL scheme, which are
subject to a duty of 98 euro per tonne, have also slowed down,
with just 15 percent of the quota allocated so far this year,
according to Commission data.
Dwindling stocks have prompted the Commission to propose
special measures which are due to be discussed later this week
that include reclassifying out-of-quota stocks so they can be
sold on the internal market, as well as allowing additional raw
sugar imports at lower tariffs.
However, the proposed measures have been criticised by
producers who say they will hurt prices just as the EU heads
towards market reforms that are expected to boost production by
Producers reiterated their opposition on Monday, with
Elisabeth Lacoste of the International Confederation of European
Beet Growers saying they "absolutely do not understand" why the
Commission is trying to add additional supplies.
Robert Guichard, president of the Committee of European
Sugar Users (CIUS), meanwhile, said the European market is
headed for "big trouble" in July and August and needs additional
supplies to bridge the gap.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)