A ruse by European industrial sugar users to dodge the high import tariffs on sugar, involving imports of large quantities of liquid sugar, is being investigated by the European Commission. According to claims by European sugar producers, soft drinks producers and food processors are importing low tariff sweet fruit juices heavily over sweetened with abnormally large concentrations of sugar which are then used to sweeten other mixtures. In this way the sugar content of these high concentrates pays a much lower import charge than if imported as pure sugar. Commission officials believe that in 1999/2000, approximately 80,000t of sugar equivalent' was imported in the guise of juice, rising to as much as 130 000t in 2000/20. The juice is concentrated close to saturation point with 59% extra sugar, before being exported from mainly Switzerland but also Poland to EU countries. Sugar users operating the system are mainly in Germany, Austria and France. Even when the Commission has completed its investigation it is, however, uncertain whether action will be taken because trade lawyers believe that there is nothing illegal or fraudulent in the trade. The European Committee of Sugar Manufacturers (CEFS) alleges that the so-called stuffed' juices represent unfair competition, while sugar users counter that it is a rational response to the EU's excessive sugar prices created by its restrictive sugar market regime. CEFS director-general Jean-Louis Barjol said the opportunity for circumvention of the sugar regime arises when world juice prices are low, as there is then no obligation for EU customs officials to question sugar. The stuffed juices can then enter the EU legally unchecked. Barjol said: "We recognise this is a legal situation, but it is creating a distortion of competition." {{M/E CANNED GOODS }}