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Public Statements

Sugar Program

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mrs. SHAHEEN. I am here today to speak to the importance of bringing much needed reform to the Federal Sugar Program. I understand that this is not something the Presiding Officer supports and that this is not something the Agriculture Committee addressed in the farm bill. I think it is important to try to address some of the misinformation that is out there.

We have been hearing a lot of talk about the need to protect America's sugar farmers. What we haven't heard is that sugar remains the most tightly controlled commodity market in this country. We currently have what I believe is an outdated program that offers a sweet deal to a small group of sugar growers and processors at the expense of too many other American businesses and at the expense of American consumers.

What the amendment that I have offered with a number of cosponsors will do is reform the Sugar Program to make U.S. manufacturers more competitive and to reduce prices for consumers. It will lower sugar price support levels, and it will reform the excessive restrictions on domestic supply and import quotas for sugars.

These reforms would save taxpayers money. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this legislation would save $82 million over the next 10 years.

I think it is important to keep in mind the amendment we have introduced does not eliminate the safety net for sugar producers. It simply makes some moderate commonsense reforms in the program. Sugar growers would still be supported by the Sugar Loan Program and protected by import restrictions and domestic market allotments. In fact, this amendment simply returns us to the same policies that sugar producers themselves supported as recently as 2007.

Since 2008, sugar prices in the United States have soared to record highs and they have consistently reached levels that are about twice the world pricing of sugar. In fact, the Sugar Program has cost consumers and businesses as much as $14 billion over the last 4 years. This amendment would provide a smart, practical, and pragmatic fix to the policies that are currently in place, and it is a bipartisan proposal. There are 18 other Senators from both sides of the aisle who have joined on this amendment.

Again, we have been hearing about jobs that would be lost in the sugar industry if we make these moderate reforms, but the reality is we are already losing and have lost too many valuable manufacturing jobs across this country as businesses close or move overseas in search of lower prices. We can see some of this illustrated on this chart. These are sugar-using jobs in the food industry, and there are more than 30 times as many of these jobs as there are in sugar production and processing. So we can see sugar-using food and beverage jobs, which is the blue, compared to sugar farming, production, and processing, which is the red. That is 590,669 compared to 18,078. And where do these numbers come from? Well, in fact, they are from the U.S. Census and the Department of Commerce.

Unfortunately, between 1997 and 2011, nearly 127,000 of these jobs, the manufacturing jobs, were lost in sugar-using industries. In fact, the U.S. Department of Commerce has estimated that for every one sugar-growing job that is saved through high sugar prices, approximately three manufacturing jobs are lost. So again, let me put the numbers into perspective, as this chart does. There are less than 5,000 sugar growers and processors in the country. U.S. data shows there are about 18,000 total jobs in the sugar industry, compared with almost 600,000 jobs in the sugar-using industry.

We have also been hearing this amendment would allow for an increase in foreign sugar into the U.S. market. This amendment maintains the current import quotas for each country. Let me repeat that: It maintains the current import quotas for each country. It allows the Secretary of Agriculture to modify these quotas if he or she determines it is necessary, just as they were able to do before 2008. The fact is this amendment would have no impact on sugar imports from Mexico because under the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, Mexico currently is the only country without a quota for sugar importation, and that is true whether we pass this amendment or not. That is true under the current system.

So even if we don't pass reforms, the argument that Mexico is coming in and bringing sugar into the country is true, there is sugar coming in from Mexico, but the fact is that is the way it is under the current program. Currently, sugar is the only--let me repeat, the only--commodity program that was not reformed in the committee-passed farm bill that is under consideration now.

Let me be clear: I think the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry--Senator Stabenow and the committee--did a great job on that bill in most areas because they provided savings and they reformed the program. So it is particularly puzzling to me why they totally left the sugar subsidies out of the bill, that they did nothing to reform the Sugar Program.

I don't think any program the Federal Government operates should be immune from updates and improvements. We need to act, and we need to act now, to reform the Sugar Program and to protect those workers who are in the food industry that use sugar, and protect consumers who are spending more money than they should for the cost of sugar.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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