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Dear Congress: Don’t Fix U.S. Sugar Program that Ain’t Broke

(Chuck Muth, President, Citizen Outreach) – New efforts to gut the U.S. sugar program – which protects American sugar producers from foreign competitors that are propped up by government subsidies – are being supported by folks who seem only able to defend their position by misrepresenting the issue.  Latest case in point: An op-ed by David Williams of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that was published last week.

For example, in his column Mr. Williams claims U.S. sugar producers are trying to “protect their government handouts.”  But the truth is American sugar farmers don’t receive even a plug nickel in government subsidies.  None.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.

On the other hand, foreign competitors regularly, and often unlawfully, directly subsidize their own domestic sugar industries.  Indeed, Mr. Williams himself acknowledges this reality, noting in his column that Brazil “successfully (filed) a case with the World Trade Organization against Thailand for distorting the worldwide price of sugar.”

Mr. Williams went on to voice support for the recently introduced and wholly misnamed “Sugar Policy Modernization Act,” claiming it was necessary “to fix the flawed U.S. sugar program.”

“This legislation,” Mr. Williams wrote, “helps to ensure that American manufacturers have access to the sugar they need and that the sugar market operates without unnecessary government intrusion, without burdening taxpayers with extra costs.”

First, there is no sugar shortage in the United States.  Bakers and candy-makers have access to all the sugar they need.  Oh, and the cost for a pound of American sugar today is the same as it was thirty years ago.

Secondly, the U.S. sugar program is hardly “intrusive” and decidedly “soft touch” – consisting only of targeted import restrictions on counties that “cheat” by subsidizing their exported sugar.

And thirdly, the program has operated at zero cost to taxpayers in 16 of the last 17 years.  The lone exception was in 2013 when Mexico was caught breaking U.S. trade law and flooding the U.S. with artificially cheap, government-subsidized Mexican sugar.

In other words, except when a foreign competitor is allowed to circumvent the U.S. sugar program, the U.S. sugar program works perfectly in making sure it doesn’t cost U.S. taxpayers a dime.  In other words, it ain’t broke.  In other words, don’t fix it.

If Members of Congress want to zero out the U.S. sugar program, fine.  But don’t do so in a vacuum with blinders on.  Foreign competitors wishing greater access to the U.S. market need to compete on a level playing field by zeroing out their government subsidies.

Zero for zero.  A modern America-first policy that U.S. taxpayers and consumers would truly benefit from.