Fiscal conservatives don’t like farm subsidies. They don’t like unnecessary hurdles to trade. And they certainly don’t like taxes or inflated consumer prices.
So it’s no wonder that many conservatives don’t like America’s sugar policy, which is an intricate web of guaranteed government loans, tariffs, quotas and market intervention. A persuasive argument can be made these policies are bad for taxpayers and bad for consumers, especially America’s seniors, who pay a disproportionate share of their income toward food staples which rely heavily on sugar.
However, there is a growing split within conservative circles about how to reform the U.S. sugar program, since forcing change through traditional legislative channels has proven to be unworkable.
During debate of the recently passed farm bill there were five votes specifically targeted at sugar policy on the floors of the House and Senate. There were also two votes at the committee level, and all of them ended the exact same way – in bipartisan defeat as lawmakers refused to decimate an industry vital to many rural communities.
With the exception of food stamps, no farm bill component even came close to receiving the floor time that sugar did, which is amazing since sugar policy costs taxpayers far less than other farm bill subsidy or nutrition programs.
And it doesn’t look like the trend of good intentions going down in flames is going to change anytime soon. The House Appropriations Committee voted on yet another anti-sugar amendment May 29, and that amendment was royally drubbed in an embarrassing 18 to 32 vote.
Sugar reform proponents have not changed tactics in nearly three decades, and in that time, we haven’t won a single vote. At some point, we must evolve to focus our time and resources in better ways.
Tom Giovanetti with the think tank Institute for Policy Innovation recently released a white paper that offers a new strategy with a global perspective. In it, he explained the grossly distorted world sugar market where America is but a bit player and global subsidies are rapidly climbing and turning free trade on its head.
It seems policy change in America might not matter much if foreign governments dominate the global supply chain and can hold U.S. consumers hostage through dependence and price setting.
Brazil, for example, is the OPEC of sugar and controls more than half of the world’s exports. At $2.5 billion a year in taxpayer assistance, this sugar supremacy didn’t come cheap and billions more in handouts appear to be forthcoming, which will strengthen the stranglehold that gives Brazil price manipulating power.
To compete, other exporters like India and Thailand have followed suit and expanded their government giveaways, which in turn, further distorts natural supply and demand conditions and harms consumers.
Closer to home, the Mexican government actually owns one-fifth of that country’s inefficient sugar industry and is using the advantages of a federal treasury to dump sugar into America and eliminate competition from the U.S. private sector and inject unsustainable price volatility.
What if all the money, all the time, and all the energy conservatives devoted to fruitless votes on U.S. sugar policy was instead dedicated to helping achieve a real global free market?
That’s the comprehensive approach that some are now promoting, and it is encapsulated in a resolution by conservative Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, from Florida.
Known as the zero-for-zero sugar policy, the Yoho resolution would tear down U.S. sugar policy in exchange for other major sugar producers doing the same to their subsidized regimes.
Convincing Brazil, India, Thailand, Mexico and others to reform won’t be easy, but at this point conservatives have nothing to lose – except vote after vote by pushing the same old tired reform strategies.
Unilateral disarmament in America is rightly a non-starter in Congress, and if it’s a free market that we really want, zero-for-zero is the most achievable path forward.