Low sugar prices blamed on a glut in the sugar supply overshadowed the 2014 ASGA Annual Meeting on Feb. 10-11 in Tampa, Fla.
Passage of the 2014 farm bill just days before the meeting did not deter sugarbeet growers from acknowledging the difficult issues that face the industry.
“The first thing is addressing the Mexican import problem,” said Luther Markwart, ASGA executive vice president, in his address outlining the industry agenda for 2014. “Clearly that’s the source of many of the challenges that we face going forward. We are going to continue to work as fast as we can to address and fix that problem.”
Unintended consequences of the North AmericanFreeTradeAgreement(NAFTA) caused the oversupply in the American market and the subsequent low prices. NAFTA rules allow Mexico to import as much sugar as it wants into the United States without any regulation.
“Our market collapsed,” Markwart said. “The price has collapsed over 50 percent. Our policy has incurred some cost, but you know who is to blame?
“Mexico,” he said. “That’s the problem.”
Prices are at levels last seen in the 1980s when President Jimmy Carter was in office.
President Barack Obama signed the farm bill into law on Feb. 7 in East Lansing,
Mich. The omnibus Agricultural Act of 2014 governs spending and programs within the USDA. The Congressional Budget Office projected the bill’s cost to be $956 billion over 10 years, or close to $100 billion per year.
“That is a true, true celebration to have Luther Markwart, left, ASGA executive vice president, poses with new ASGA officers John Snyder, president, Galen Lee, vice president, and Mark Olson, treasurer, at the ASGA Annual Meeting on Feb. 11 in Tampa, Fla. Photo/Don Lilleboe that done,” said Markwart. “And we are thrilled with it.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., summarized the lengthy journey of the farm bill before Obama signed it into law in video remarks for attendees.
The TPP is a major multilateral trade undertaking, the most significant for the U.S. since NAFTA took effect 20 years ago. Every country has some products that it is particularly sensitive about and wants to protect.
U.S. producers of sugar and textiles, among some others, are concerned that they will suffer from increased foreign competition.
TPP negotiators had set a goal of reaching agreement by the end of last year. However, their last meeting in December in Singapore ended without a deal. A new target for concluding talks hasn’t been set, and though there are hopes that an agreement will be completed this year, the midterm elections in the U.S. could present more challenges as free trade has been a hot political issue in the past.
Partners on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed hope to finish negotiations on the trade deal swiftly, perhaps even before the end of this year. But the real deadline negotiators should focus on is whether they can get it done before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
“They understand how sensitive this issue is to us about granting more access,” Markwart said. “Why grant access when you’re having to buy sugar because of Mexico and having to dispose of it.”
Outgoing ASGA President Kelly Erickson spoke briefly about the biotechnology front.
“When the U.S. sugarbeet industry was the first in the world to step into biotechnology, we took one a great new opportunity along with many new challenges,” he said. “Being the first at anything isn’t easy. We have an obligation to lead internationally, while we continue to meet the challenges domestically.”
“You deserve the certainty of a five-year farm bill and our very best effort to make sure it works right,” said the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We have a lot of reforms, a lot of improvements.”
No changes were made to the sugar provisions as they appeared in the 2008 farm bill.
Markwart said beet growers must defend the sugar provisions in the farm bill.
Opponents of any part of the farm bill can attempt to prevent the USDA from implementing it by pulling out funding during the appropriations process in Congress.
“Our job is to back our members (of Congress),” Markwart said. “If anybody tries to mess with it say no. Vote against it.”
Markwart said the ASGA is already looking toward the 2018 farm bill.
“You don’t start educating members a year out from the farm bill,” he said. “This industry has the reputation of being the best of any commodity group, because we do this every year. You’ve got to go back and teach every year. We need votes from a lot of places that don’t grow sugarbeets or sugarcane.”
Markwart said the unfair trade practices must be exposed.
“That’s the message we have to take to the hill,” he said.
Two trade agreements currently under negotiation are especially sensitive to the sugar industry.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is
a free-trade pact being negotiated among
New ASGA President John Snyder spoke about what lies ahead.
“Each day we must rise to the occasion,” he said. “We must fight those forces that bring harm to what we have worked so hard
12 Pacific Rim countries. The TPP is an ambitious effort to shape a comprehensive agreement that would not only reduce
tariffs and other barriers to open markets, but establish standards on a range of issues affecting trade and international competition. For instance, negotiators are working to set up rules on intellectual property rights, government procurement and the role of the state in private enterprise.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a proposal to create a trade free area covering Europe and North America. An agreement has been under negotiation since last year and if agreed would become the biggest deal of its type.
to establish and maintain for our growers and for generations to come.
“We need to speak positively about sugar,” Snyder said. “When someone asks you about sugar, defend it. It’s a good product. It’s our life. We need to talk positively about that. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you. Let’s go to work.”