From Spring Showers to Foreign Subsidies

The best growers in the world deserve fair trade on the global sugar market.

Published online: May 09, 2019 News Phillip Hayes, ASA
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This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Sugar Producer

Spring is in full swing across the country. For most farmers, hopefully April showers brought not only May flowers, but the beginnings of a successful sugarbeet crop.

Planting season looks much different now than it did several generations ago. America’s beet growers have heavily invested in new technology and sustainable practices in order to make their operations more efficient. This has placed our beet sugar industry among the lowest-cost producers in the world. It’s no question that American sugar farmers could compete toe-to-toe in the free market with any sugar producer in the world.

However, the global sugar market is a far cry from either free or fair. Instead, it’s most often described as the most distorted commodity market in the world. Nearly every one of the other 120 foreign nations that produce sugar subsidizes its production in some manner.

Our farmers simply do not face a fair opponent when competing with the treasuries of other countries.

The American Sugar Alliance tracks these foreign subsidies, noting that falling global prices have been driven by an oversupply of sugar.

We recently highlighted news that India has manipulated the government-set selling price of sugar in order to financially assist farmers and help mills clear stockpiles of sugar—stockpiles that, ironically, have accumulated due to government intervention.

India joins Brazil as being some of the worst subsidizers, spending $1.7 billion and $2.5 billion a year, respectively, propping up their domestic sugar industries. But they certainly are not alone. The billions spent by foreign nations, both large and small, stand in stark contrast to the U.S.’s no-cost federal sugar policy.

Thankfully, we at the ASA are not the only ones who have identified the global sugar industry and its egregious abuse of subsidies as an area of concern. Congress has taken note as well.

Florida Rep. Ted Yoho recently re-introduced a resolution that would implement a “Zero-for-Zero” sugar policy. Instead of unilaterally dismantling America’s sugar policy, putting the domestic sugar industry at risk of collapse and endangering the 142,000 jobs supported by sugar, Zero-for-Zero proposes dropping our sugar policy only in exchange for the documented elimination of foreign sugar subsidies.

This is a common-sense proposal that takes verified steps toward leveling the playing field without punishing American sugar farmers. After all, there is no gain in jeopardizing the rural and urban communities that rely on our sugar industry in the vain hope that foreign nations will voluntarily choose to stop cheating the system.

It’s easy to see why this legislation has elicited support from both sides of the political aisle. And because it takes aim at the foreign subsidies that are wrecking the global sugar market, Zero-for-Zero has the resounding support of the sugar industry.

We have spoken to farmers across the country who say that sugar farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life. The hope represented by the spring planting season for the families and communities that will spend long hours in the field tending to their crops over the next several months are a testament to that fact.

We will never stop advocating for a free market. But until Zero-for-Zero becomes a reality, we are committed to fighting to preserve the no-cost sugar policy that preserves your livelihood.