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Big Candy’s Trick is No Treat for U.S. Sugar Farmers

(November 4, 2013) – For Halloween last week, U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent Halloween cards to their colleagues on behalf of the U.S. candy industry in their ongoing effort to undermine U.S. sugar farmers by propping up foreign competitors.

Talking about the U.S. tariff and quota program that protects the domestic sugar industry from heavily-subsidized/artificially cheap imports, Kirk said, “It’s time we end this unfair pricing scheme that protects a few sugar growers unnecessarily.”

Kirk is promoting the Sugar Reform Act that he claims will “help to bring the 125,000 skilled (candy) manufacturing jobs that were forced abroad by this program back to the U.S. where they belong.”

If only there was the same kind of truth-in-labeling for political rhetoric that’s required for a bag of Hershey Kisses.

While the cost of a pound of sugar in the U.S. today remains right around where it was 30 years ago, major U.S. candy companies are enjoying all-time high stock prices, adding jobs and hauled in a record-breaking $2.4 billion worth of candy sales this Halloween season.

And the real unfair pricing scheme is the direct government subsidies foreign governments provide to foreign sugar farmers in an effort to keep their exported sugar prices artificially low in order to undermine far more efficient U.S. farmers.

Protections for U.S. sugar famers from cheap imports is not “unnecessary,” as countries in Europe learned years ago when they discontinued their own sugar programs and let their domestic sugar industries die. Those countries are now held hostage by “cheap” sugar imports that aren’t so cheap any longer.

In addition, all those candy manufacturing jobs didn’t move overseas simply because of the lure of cheap, subsidized sugar, but because of cheap labor and a lesser regulatory burden.

The fact is, since debate on the current Farm Bill began in 2012 there have been five – count ‘em, FIVE – recorded votes on efforts to gut U.S. sugar policy the way Sens. Kirk and Shaheen are urging. And all five votes have ended the same way; with Congress voting to back U.S. sugar producers.

The trick has been efforts by candy manufacturers to get Congress to sell-out U.S. sugar farmers. The treat has been Congress consistently saying no. Which it will continue to do.

Senators Kirk and Shaheen should stop trying to scare people and do something to actually fix this situation by embracing the “Zero for Zero” strategy that would end all U.S. support programs for sugar in return for simultaneous cessation of all foreign government subsidies for the industry. That’s a path forward that no one should be afraid of.