What do 2018/19 imports from EPA/EBA countries to the EU mean for the global sugar market?

Feb 20 2020

The EPA and EBA allow duty and quota free trade between the EU and many LDCs. Analysing the 2018/19 sugar import figures throws up some fascinating trends and insights into the global market.

What are the EPA and EBA and how do they affect the sugar market?  

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme were created by the European Union (EU) to promote trade with less developed countries (LDCs). To do this, it was agreed that all imports to the EU from these countries (except arms) would be duty and quota free.

As sugar cane grows in many of the hot, tropical countries that benefit from the initiatives, they have direct bearing on the global sugar market. The following link provides a full breakdown of the EPA agreement and the countries involved.

Brexit may have started, but a deal struck by Theresa May’s government in 2017 means the UK government will still uphold the terms of the EPA/EBA. More on both this and how Brexit could affect the sugar market can be found here.

In theory, the scrapping of the quota system under EPA/EBA should provide growers in LDCs with greater opportunity to adjust their production methods, explore new markets and drive commercial benefits. And as trade is a two-way process, the agreement should also provide importers with more choice.

Pure sugar produced by Ragus. Ragus is one of the world's leading pure sugarmanufacturers. It sources raw sugar from across the world to manufacture sugars, syrups and special formulations from its advanced UK factory. Ragus ships its sugars globally, delivering on-time and in-full to customers across the brewing, baking, confectionary, and pharmaceutical industries

EPA/EBA sugar will always be in demand because sugar cane is used to produce specialist sugar products, such as demerara sugar, that cannot be produced with sugar beet. 

What are the main findings from the 2018/19 import data?

The key measure used to compare imports is the amount of EU sugar import licenses issued for EPA/EBA sugar in 2018/19. By using this methodology we can also compare the findings with the two other seasons since the quota system was removed.

In 2016/17, the EU’s cumulative import licenses was 1,317,000 tonnes. In 2017/18 this number fell sharply to 556,270 before bouncing back to 1,100,721 tonnes in 2018/19. In short, this means that since the removal of production quota system in 2017, import licenses to the EU rocketed, halved and then recovered.

With a total of 303,279 tonnes, Swaziland was the EU’s top supplier for 2018/119. This is the first time this has happened, seeing the kingdom overtake traditional leading supplier Mauritius (213,089 tonnes), Belize (181,884 tonnes), and Mozambique (121,332 tonnes).

Guyana and Jamaica, traditionally both big players in the cane export market, experienced particularly poor export campaigns in 2018/19. Before the EPA/EBA, Guyana was a consistent supplier of between 175,000 and 200,000 tonnes of raw sugar to the EU, but in 2018/19 only 49,733 tonnes of import licenses were issued. Similarly, Jamaica used to export between 125,000 and 145,000 tonnes of raw sugar to the EU before EPA/EBA, but only managed 6,600 tonnes in 2018/19 – a reduction of well over two thirds from 2017/18 (21,025 tonnes).

What does the 2018/19 import data tell us about demand for sugar?

The recovery of imports from EPA/EBA countries obviously demonstrates increased demand. What, however, has caused this?

Sugar cane will, of course, always be needed. Using refined cane sugar allows expert manufacturers like us to produce specialist sugars and syrups that aren’t possible from sugar beet. There will also always be demand for EPA/EBA sugar because it is extremely difficult to produce organic sugar from sugar beets.

However, the increase of EPA/EBA imports in 2018/19 can also be explained by the strong drop in EU sugar production in this period. With just enough beet sugar produced to make the EU self-sufficient in 2018/19, demand for EPA/EBA sugar has increased as European nations have turned to LDCs for additional imports.

Given the difficult harvest conditions experienced throughout Europe this season, we can predict there will be similar demand for EPA/EBA sugar next year. This gives countries like Swaziland and Mauritius opportunity to advance on their increases from 2018/19.

What does the import data tell us about the wider market?

The main takeaway from the last three years of import data is that the EPA and EBA initiatives have not increased sugar trade to the extent they hope to, with the struggles of Jamaica and Guyana notable examples of this shortfall. The main driver behind this has been price.

In the past it was often cheaper to import sugar from EPA/EBA countries than from other European member states, or from other cane sugar producing Developing Countries (DCs) such as Brazil or India. But as a result of the global surplus, sugar prices have been consistently low, and this has coincided with the removal of the quota system (although global prices have now started to increase in the opening months of 2020).

Prices are now so low that it is no longer cheaper to import from EBA/EPA countries. Therefore, imports in 2018/19 were considerably lower than in 2016/17 because some European countries chose to import cane from countries not under the two agreements. Second, we can assume that some growers in LDCs are stopping growing sugar cane and starting to grow other more profitable crops. The knock-on effect of this is a reduction in the number of sugar cane growing nations to import from.

The EPA/EBA initiatives were created to promote free trade between the EU and LDCs. Although they set out an environment in which this could thrive, it didn’t mean it would automatically happen.

As ever, we must be cautious when analysing market data because there is no definitive answer. Hopefully, the evidence from the 2018/19 import data, coupled with Ragus’ biannual sugar market report, has connected the dots and indicated what direction the market might be moving in.

Ragus researches and audits sugar producers all over the world to help produce its range of sugar products. This involves sourcing beet sugars from Europe and cane sugars from EPA/EBA countries. Visit our product finder to discover our range of pure sugars and syrups.

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How is sugar used for Valentine’s Day?

Feb 13 2020

When looking for a way to put a smile on the face of a significant other, family or friend, it’s often something sweet. This Valentine’s Day will see the UK consume thousands of tonnes of sugar in sweets, chocolate and desserts. Below, we outline the role this plays in the food and drinks associated with February 14th.

Love heart biscuits

Love hearts have come to be one of, if not the main, symbol of Valentine’s Day. One of the favourite treats at this time of year, aside from sweets and chocolate, are heart shaped biscuits. Using soft brown light sugar in these biscuits gives them a light colour, a sweet taste and a soft bite, rather than a crunch.

These are made by rolling out the biscuit dough and then cutting to the desired shape. Soft brown light sugar, rather than a muscovado sugar, allows the baker to see when the biscuit is cooked perfectly, while maintaining that golden quality.

If you’re making a special cocktail for your partner on Valentine’s Day, you’re going to need golden granulated sugar. 

Steak with red wine sauce

Steak is one of the most popular Valentine’s dishes, seen as a special meal for a special day. Something that can really set a steak apart is the sauce, and this recipe ticks all the boxes with a thick texture and rich flavour, perfect for a restaurant special or packaged as a luxury cook-at-home sauce.

A mixture of wine and shallots give this sauce a sophisticated flavour with the different elements tied together with melted brown cane sugar, which adds a strong flavour and thicker texture than a lighter sugar. Flavoured with bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper, this should then be poured over steaks, preferably with vegetables and chunky chips.

Dark chocolate pudding to share

Valentine’s dinner isn’t complete without a delectable dessert for two. This rich and luxurious chocolate pudding, set off by the malted cream, will leave everyone happy. It makes the perfect finale to a Valentine’s set menu in a restaurant, or as an easy, refrigerated pudding set.

The dark muscovado sugar in the cream allows it to be whisked, rather than being weighed down by a larger grain size. Serve the pudding hot and the cream cold, with cherries and pistachios.

Valentine’s cocktails

When thinking about Valentine’s colours, the first ones that come to mind are red and pink, so we’ve found a celebratory cocktail to match that colour scheme, as well as a more classic, sophisticated drink. Whether sold pre-mixed in supermarkets for a night in, or created at the bar from fresh ingredients, these will set off the evening.

Non-alcoholic raspberry mojito: A tongue-tingling red cocktail that can be enjoyed by everyone. This starts with a simple syrup made by dissolving golden granulated sugar into water over a low heat. This is then mixed with raspberry juice, lime juice and soda water. Best served over ice, fresh raspberries and finished with mint leaves.

Old fashioned: Nothing says sophisticated like an old fashioned: whiskey, bitters and dissolved brown cane sugar. Finish it will a curl of orange peel for an extra garnish.

Choosing the right sugar for your product is crucial to ensuring a consistent food or drink with a reliable taste. Contact Ragus now to benefit from over 90 years of sugar expertise.

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Granular Detail: Black Treacle

Feb 06 2020

Black treacle is a staple of supermarket shelves all over the UK, with the syrup first gaining commercial popularity in the post-war era. In this blog, we look at how it became so highly sought-after by underlining its key properties, its manufacturing process, and the applications it can be used for.  

What is black treacle?

Black treacle is a dark and highly viscous syrup made from cane molasses. Ragus’ black treacle is a mixture of syrup and molasses. As a result, its flavour is similar to cane treacle but more rounded and softer than molasses. The product’s distinctive dark colour also comes from the use of molasses, distinguishing black treacle from golden syrup.

Treacle’s original use was in medicine, dating back to the 17th century. It was primarily used to treat snakebites, with the word treacle stemming from the ancient Greek thēriakē, meaning antidote against venom. In the early 1950s, black treacle, like all other treacles, rapidly became truly commercialised as a foodstuff, being used in treacle tarts, parkin, liquorice sweets and treacle toffee.

In recent memory, it has been labelled as the ‘British term for molasses.’ Due to the two products having different flavours and manufacturing processes, this is not the case and the two syrups cannot be used like-for-like.

Black treacle’s dark colour and flavour make it the perfect counterpart to golden syrup. 

How is black treacle manufactured?

The process starts at the cane refining mill, where sugar cane is harvested and stripped of its leaves. It is then crushed to release its sucrose content.

From here, the resulting juice is boiled, causing sugar crystals to form and leaving a highly concentrated sugar syrup. After a third and final boiling, the resulting liquid is cane molasses. Most of the sucrose present in the original juice that has crystallised is then removed in a centrifuge, with this separating the crystals from the adhering film of molasses. Using this production process ensures all the essential nutrients found in the sugar cane are retained in the cane molasses.

At Ragus, we source our molasses from a range of certified mills and refineries across the globe. It is exported from these in tanker ships before arriving at our production facility in temperature controlled road tankers. The raw molasses, at this point not fit for food production, is then pumped into evaporating vats. In these it is heated to over 80˚C, purified, and adjustments are made to the sugar content and acidity level.

Then, it is passed through a 300-micron filter to remove any remaining impurities. From here, the molasses is cooled to a specific temperature and matured in holding tanks. Once matured the molasses is dropped into vats and blended with refiners syrup to produce black treacle. The treacle is then decanted through an 80-micron filter and packed into containers ranging from 7 kilogram pails to 25,000 kilogram road tankers for transportation to our customers.

What products is black treacle used in?

Black treacle is mainly used in baked goods such as Christmas puddings, fruit cakes, parkin, liquorice sweets, treacle toffee and gingerbread. This is due to its intense flavour, dark colour and bitter-sweet taste. It also acts as a sweetener and natural colourant.

But it is also used in savoury dishes to help form rich glazes or smoky marinades for meat or fish. Some brewers even use black treacle to produce mild ales, and it is a crucial ingredient in mahogany, a cocktail traditionally drank by sailors made from two parts gin and one part black treacle.

All of the above ensure that black treacle, next to golden syrup, remains one the UK’s most recognisable and widely used sugar products.

Ragus uses its extensive experience to manufacture the highest quality and most consistent black treacle. Contact us today to find out how this can benefit your food product.

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