The Coalition for Sugar Reform on Thursday praised a bipartisan group of senators for offering an amendment to the country’s sugar import policies.
The amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill — the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240) — under consideration this week in the U.S. Senate, would roll back the sugar program’s most onerous provisions, which were enacted as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. The amendment was filed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; and Dan Coats, R-Ind.
“We applaud the bipartisan group of senators for their leadership and coming together to press for real reform of the sugar program in the 2012 Farm Bill,” said Larry Graham, chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform and president of the National Confectioners Association. “These senators and many of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand the negative impact the current sugar program has on American consumers, businesses and workers across the country.”
The coalition says the current sugar program imposes a “hidden tax” on consumers— amounting to $14 billion over the past four years — and threatens the jobs of 600,000 workers in sugar-using industries. Estimates show that 125,000 American jobs in the food production industry were lost between 1997 and 2010 due to high sugar prices and a consequent move to increased foreign production, the coalition said.
“While other U.S. commodities are faced with across-the-board cuts, the 2012 Farm Bill leaves the Depression-era sugar program untouched. The sugar program’s special status is confounding, especially when it comes at such a high cost to American families, businesses and workers,” Graham said. “This amendment, if passed, could help generate savings for U.S. consumers and businesses and help create an additional 20,000 U.S. jobs annually.”
The bipartisan sugar reform amendment would repeal the Feedstock Flexibility Program and other trade restrictions, providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture with flexibility to allow additional sugar imports in response to market demand. The amendment would also reduce higher price support levels for sugar growers, which, along with the current program’s other provisions, artificially inflate the price of U.S. sugar — now at an all-time high of 50 percent or move above the world price.
In addition, the amendment would provide USDA with flexibility in administering import quotas and in modifying or suspending marketing allotments, as it would reform domestic supply restrictions.
"Equally important, maintaining these restrictions carries a high price in our trade negotiations," said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council. "They bind the hands of our trade negotiators and place them at disadvantage with our foreign counterparts in the negotiating process.
"The result has often led to less market access for other U.S. agricultural goods such as beef, rice and soybeans, as well as countries excluding sensitive markets entirely in trade negotiations," he added. "The result of U.S. exclusion of sugar in the US-Australia FTA (free trade agreement), for example, encouraged Korean insistence on exclusion of rice in its FTA with the U.S."
On Monday, the coalition sent a letter to all senators, urging them to support an amendment to reform the program. “The amendment represents true reform of a program that is advertised by growers as ‘no net cost,’ but in fact hits every consumer in America in the pocketbook,” the coalition wrote. “As with virtually every other commodity group, now is the time to reform the sugar program.”