Sugar: Rules of the Game 32:00, 2003 (Ref: EU0349)


Antonio Maolela cuts sugar cane on a plantation in Mozambique. He earns about 2 euros a day working from dawn till dusk. But he was even worse off a few years ago when the plantation was not producing. He barely scraped a living by making his own charcoal. Honorio Valdunciel is a farmer from Zamora, Spain. One of his main sources of income comes from growing sugar beet. Though he makes a descent income, it requires hard work and high investments. He’s come close to throwing in the towel on two occasions. The future of both men is tied to the controversial price of sugar in world markets. Sugar prices in the European Union and the United States are highly protected by tariffs which keep out competition. Their internal price of sugar is three times higher than international market prices because beet sugar is more expensive than cane sugar. Paradoxically, Europe is the world’s biggest exporter of sugar cane because of subsidies. This lowers world market prices and makes things even harder for more efficient Third World producers.

Many southern hemisphere countries and several organisations and NGO’s have publicly denounced what they see as unfair international trade rules which only favour the rich. Sugar is a perfect example. While Europe shields its market, arguing that it has to protect its farmers, the IMF and the World Bank (where European countries play a decisive role) exert heavy pressure on Mozambique to scrap import tariffs precisely when the country is trying to revive its sugar industry, destroyed by civil war. Why are there two sets of rules, one for the rich and one for the poor? But total liberalisation of the sugar market is not a solution either. The big multinationals would end up fixing prices, just as they do for many other products, hurting poor countries. Should European farmers stop growing sugar beet crops, which would put many of them out of work? This documentary examines the complex world of international commerce by looking at the major players in the sugar industry – European and African farmers, major sugar production companies on both continents, experts and officials.

The film shows how the decisions made at distant international meetings affect the lives of individuals. The sugar market is a metaphor for globalisation. Whatever the outcome, only one side will come out winning.