By BERT WILKINSON, Associated Press Writer
Fri Mar 24, 4:39 PM ET

The U.S. government has increased the amount of sugar it will import from Caribbean countries, giving a boost to regional producers who are struggling to absorb large cuts to European Union sugar subsidies.

Guyana, the largest of five sugar-producing countries in the region, received about a 25 percent increase in its raw sugar quota, moving up to 23,800 tons for fiscal year 2006, the U.S. Embassy said Friday in a statement.

Jamaica and Belize, the other two large producers, also got 25 percent hikes taking their quota to nearly 22,000 tons. Trinidad and Tobago also received a 25 percent increase in their export ceiling, moving their total to about 13,900 tons, said Ian McDonald, director of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean.

The U.S. didn't say why it increased the quota, but McDonald said it was no surprise given the devastation wreaked on plantations in U.S. southern states, such as Louisiana, due to Hurricane Katrina and other storms in recent years.

"The U.S. has been increasing quotas to buffet supplies as there is a shortage on their market," he said.

The increase should help offset the EU's 36 percent in sugar subsidies imposed in January. For years, the EU gave former colonies in the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific preferential access to its markets and paid high prices to encourage development, but the World Trade Organization said that was unfair and ordered the bloc to reduce quotas and prices for sugar, as well as for bananas and cotton.

Caribbean sugar producers include Guyana, Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad and Barbados. St. Kitts closed its industry after the EU cuts were first announced and because of rising production costs.

Caribbean countries annually produce about 772,000 tons of sugar, most of which is sent to Europe.

Barbados did not receive an increase in its U.S. sugar quota.