By: Judy Sanchez
Published in the Orlando Sentinel
September 1, 2017
Critics of American sugar policy are once again orchestrating a campaign against America’s sugar-cane and sugar-beet farmers. It boggles the mind that one of the few — if not only — government programs designed to operate at no cost continues to come under attack.
As part of the current farm bill, the sugar program regularly operates at zero cost, does not include government subsidy checks to farmers, and supports more than 142,000 American jobs in 22 states as part of an industry that contributes $20 billion per year to the U.S. economy.
Farmers across the country face falling prices even as costs continue rising. Sugar is no different. What is different is that foreign subsidies in sugar are even more prevalent than in other commodities.
Mexico is a prime example of what sugar-cane farmers are up against. The Mexican government controlled 20 percent of its sugar production and heavily subsidized the rest, then Mexican producers dumped sugar at prices well below what sugar sold for in Mexico — breaking U.S. law and causing significant financial harm to U.S. sugar producers.
Yet critics continue to claim candy companies are fleeing to Mexico for cheaper sugar. We know that’s not true because our government found Mexico guilty of dumping sugar and cheating under the terms of NAFTA.
While it’s easy for special interests to call for free markets and attempt to gut farm programs that keep our country producing the majority of its own food, to actually have a free global market in sugar is something that we have to negotiate with foreign governments.
Florida Congressman Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, introduced Zero for Zero legislation that called for all countries to remove their government interventions in sugar. Florida sugar-cane farmers agreed that there should be a global ceasefire of all subsidies and support — with the U.S. rolling back its no-cost policy at that time. Regretfully, major sugar-exporting countries like Brazil, Thailand, India and Mexico have shown no such inclination and instead actually have increased direct and indirect subsidies to their own sugar producers.
The notion that allowing cheap, subsidized foreign sugar to displace American sugar-cane and sugar-beet farmers would result in lower-priced food products and benefit consumers is utter nonsense. Time after time, farmers have seen sugar prices plummet, and not one sugar-containing item in the grocery store has passed along a penny of these cost savings to the consumer.
In 2014, Mexican sugar was dumped into the U.S. market at artificially low prices, yet consumers saw no subsequent lowering of food prices even though Mexico’s cheating under the terms of NAFTA cost American sugar producers and processors billions of dollars. This created a rare instance of our government purchasing unsold sugar for ethanol production, an emergency tool for managing oversupply and the only time sugar policy has had a cost in 15 years.
Meanwhile, special interest groups spout anti-farming rhetoric and attempt to demonize Florida sugar-cane farmers who are among the most efficient, high-tech growers in the world. Florida’s sugar industry represents $3.2 billion in yearly economic activity and provides 12,500 good jobs for Floridians. Sugar-cane farmers also grow citrus, sweet corn, green beans, rice and a host of other food crops.
Leading up to the 2018 farm bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected American sugar policy to continue at no cost to taxpayers through 2027 — benefiting consumers and farmers. A bag of sugar today costs roughly the same as it did in the 1980s.
That’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s no wonder Congress has consistently supported maintaining strong American sugar policy.
Judy Clayton Sanchez is the senior director for corporate communications and public affairs at U.S. Sugar.