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Former congressman pushing sugar policy

(Jeremy Alford/ – Former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry of New Iberia has been advocating an idea on Capitol Hill that involves domestic sugar farmers like those in Louisiana abandoning price supports from the federal government.

While that’s exactly what sugar cane boosters fought to avoid last week in the latest Senate version of the farm bill, Landry, an attorney and small businessman who said one of his first jobs was in a sugar cane field, has an important qualifier to his stance.

Price supports should only be lifted if the sugar industries in competing nations lose their subsidies and tariffs, he said.

If that happens, domestic farmers will not only survive, but flourish, Landry said during a sugar policy panel discussion hosted last week by RedState, a “right of center” website out of Washington, D.C.

“Absolutely they can,” Landry said. “I would put our sugar farmers in the United States against any of the sugar farmers around the world when it comes to efficiency, conservation techniques and the ability to raise a very productive crop. If we were able to play on a level playing field, we could absolutely compete.”

Landry is pushing what is now being called a “zero-for-zero” policy.

Supporters, like the America Sugar Alliance, a national trade organization, suggest U.S. trade negotiators should begin by targeting Brazil.

The alliance points to a recent study by ProSunergy, a U.K.-based company with sugar and bio-energy interests, that uncovered a complex web of Brazilian government programs that provide nearly $2.5 billion per year in sugar subsidies, helping the country gain a nearly 50 percent market share of global sugar exports.

“This report underscores the importance of maintaining the current U.S. sugar policy, which was designed to shield consumers from foreign market manipulation and ensure an affordable, homegrown supply of a food staple,” said Jack Roney, the alliance’s director of economic and policy analysis.

Gutting the U.S. price support policy, Landry said, while doing nothing to address Brazil would result in a loss of American jobs.

“When you’re dealing with a country like Brazil, you can’t move until they move,” Landry said.

A Republican, Landry represented Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes until this most recent term. When he was forced to run for re-election in a newly drawn district in south Louisiana, he lost to Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.

As the House begins to debate its version of the latest farm bill, a group called the Coalition for Sugar Reform, consisting of soda manufacturers, bakers, cereal makers, dairy companies and others, is letting federal lawmakers know why it is opposed to domestic price supports.

Larry Graham, coalition chairman and president of the National Confectioners Association, said the argument about foreign subsidies in other nations is an attempt to distract attention away from the $38 million sugar surplus purchasing plan announced recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He said USDA is “set to purchase 85,000 metric tons of domestic sugar to manage the current sugar surplus resulting from the outdated federal sugar program.”

Graham added that the USDA is trying to mitigate the negative impact of anticipated sugar loan forfeitures, which are projected to range from $110 million to $320 million.

“We need congressional reform of the sugar program now to help balance the program so it takes into account the interests of all stakeholders, most notably U.S. taxpayers,” he said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League, said cheaper foreign sugar would only endanger the 16.000 Louisiana jobs the industry supports.

“Given today’s difficult economic times, Louisiana sugar producers need a strong sugar policy, and we need to address the bad actors who are manipulating the global sugar market,” Simon said.