A recent editorial in The Washington Post calls on Congress to reform the U.S. sugar program, noting the nearly $300 million in taxpayer costs the program has racked up this year alone. The editorial also addresses the sugar lobby's proposed "zero-for-zero" policy, which would press our trade partners to eliminate their sugar subsidies and then the United States would do so as well. I agree with what the Post's editorial board had to say about the "zero-for-zero" proposal:
"... Politics 101 says that's not going to happen soon, so demanding ‘zero-for-zero' amounts to an excuse for perpetuating policies that benefit U.S. producers at the expense of food processors and consumers."
The Post is correct. The sugar lobby has taken a step in the right direction – recognizing the need for reform to the U.S. sugar program – but this "zero-for-zero" proposal, while it seems logical, is not going to happen anytime soon. With a number of trade negotiations currently underway, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trade in Services Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, negotiating "zero-for-zero" is definitely not high on the priority list, if it's on the list at all.
On top of that, trade negotiations take a long time. That is time U.S. consumers and businesses do not have when the current U.S. sugar program has already cost them nearly $3.5 billion per year since the 2008 farm bill and has cost taxpayers millions just since July, as the program is forcing USDA to bail out already profitable sugar growers.
As The Washington Post concludes, "The United States should stand for free trade in sugar and against protectionism. Setting a better example would help." The United States can pursue a "zero-for-zero" policy, but American taxpayers, consumers and businesses need solutions for today. And those solutions can be found in the bipartisan reforms advocated by sugar reform champions like Sens. Shaheen, Kirk and Toomey and Reps. Pitts, Davis, Blumenauer, Goodlatte and Speier, and so many others.