In an amazing twist, some of the world’s biggest sugar subsidizers signaled a desire to start a conversation about rolling back global subsidies to help make the market freer and fairer.
Sounds promising, except for the fact that a couple of vocal U.S. politicians were simultaneously signaling their desire to simply end U.S. sugar policy and reward subsidizers with more U.S. market share, thus foregoing any chance of worldwide reform.
Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and his sidekick, Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform, declared that gutting U.S. sugar policy was their top priority in a Dec. 2 op-ed. In that piece, they mocked U.S. sugar producers who have advocated a global subsidy cease-fire known as the Zero-for-Zero sugar policy. They called the idea impossible and foolish.
Yet less than 24 hours later, agricultural leaders from Brazil, Australia, and Thailand called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to “take decisive action on [sugar] subsidies and finally have the subject of much controversy, disbanded for once and for all.”
The group of sugar exporters, known as the Global Alliance for Sugar Trade Reform, took particular aim at India, which has enacted a series of WTO-illegal subsidies to manipulate the global market. But they also showed a willingness to discuss more far-reaching reforms across the world.
In a press release from the group headlined “No Subsidies, Point Blank,” the chairman of the Thailand Sugar Millers Corporation noted: “We will be calling on the WTO to take the tough but necessary decision to dismantle subsidisation schemes world-wide.”
“Now is the time to see all export subsidies disbanded,” added Greg Beashel, the CEO of Australia’s main marketing body Queensland Sugar Limited.
True, Brazil has not yet agreed to stop the $2.5 billion is annual subsidies it has used to gain a stranglehold on the global market. And Thailand hasn’t made a peep about forgoing the $1.3 billion a year in sugar subsidies it ladles onto the market. But the acknowledgment that subsidies are wrecking the global market and must be addressed is a great first step that can be built upon.
U.S. producers have already expressed their desire to hold such conversations at the WTO. They are efficient and know that they can thrive in a world market void of government intrusion. They’ve even pledged to end U.S. sugar policy as leverage to achieve global reform.
The question now is: Will the conversations ever take place?
Not if Pitts and Norquist are successful in their bid to break congressional promises and slip an anti-farmer rider onto an upcoming omnibus appropriations package. If they can reopen the Farm Bill and unilaterally disarm U.S. sugar policy, expect U.S. sugar production and the 142,000 jobs it supports to be outsourced to less efficient subsidizers that will no longer have any reason to negotiate.
Perhaps a government-manipulated market full of global subsidies is exactly what these so-called “free traders” are actually after.