Sugar-producing nations in the African, Caribbean, and Pacific will continue to enjoy preferential access to European markets, the European Union trade commissioner said Thursday, according to a Dow Jones report.

Speaking after meeting with Caribbean trade ministers in Guyana, Peter Mandelson said Europe would assist sugar-producing nations add value to their exports.

The "intelligent way forward" for the Caribbean region is to shift toward value-added products, Mandelson said. They "are better assured of a future in world markets" than raw cane sugar, he added.

The 15-nation Caribbean Community sells about half of its annual 700,000-ton production to Europe at special preferential prices.

In October, the World Trade Organization said the European Union had broken international trade rules by subsidizing sugar producers.

Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados sugar producers say they could lose up to $90 million a year if the European Union carries out its plan to reduce the price to conform to WTO rules.

The European Union has decided to delay the price reduction. It had initially proposed a 37 percent reduction over a three-year period, beginning with a 20 percent cut July 1 and another 17 percent cut over 2006-2007.

The first cut will be postponed to July 2006, but it is not known how big it will be, Jamaica's Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said.

Former colonies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands, Caribbean Community countries are in the final stages of establishing a single regional trade market. Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad will inaugurate the single market Feb. 19, at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Community's new head offices in Guyana.

The three countries are the only Caribbean Community members who have passed the necessary laws to join the EU-style single market, which will allow duty-free trade between participating nations.

Other, smaller eastern Caribbean countries have agreed to join by the end of 2005, while Haiti and Suriname are aiming to enter by 2008.