Bakers see U.S.D.A. 'gaming' sugar program

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — Describing the U.S. Sugar Import Program as “archaic,” the American Bakers Association on Aug. 30 highlighted a recent move by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as evidence of the need for program reform.

On Aug. 26, the U.S.D.A. said sugar imported into the United States under the fiscal year 2011 raw sugar import tariff-rate quota (T.R.Q.) will be permitted to enter U.S. Customs territory until Oct. 31, 2011, a month beyond the end of the fiscal year.

The department cited rules under the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule allowing deliveries for a given quota period to be entered in a previous or subsequent quota year period.

“This action is expected to reduce the T.R.Q. shortfall and provide additional flexibility for U.S. refiners,” the U.S.D.A. said.

Also to alleviate tightness, the department on Aug. 1 said it would allow T.R.Q. sugar imports for fiscal 2012 to begin a month early, on Sept. 1.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently confirmed what bakers have been saying for many years now — the sugar program is broken and does not serve our country’s best interests,” said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A. “The fact that the U.S.D.A. had to game the system to ensure adequate sugar supplies for American consumers is just the latest proof.”

Cory Martin, senior manager of government relations for the A.B.A., described the department’s move as a “desperate” attempt to “manage an archaic program to meet modern demand.”

“Our hats are off to the U.S.D.A. for being creative in order to address myriad supply concerns with the program, but its hands are tied by current law,” he said. “Congress must dramatically reform the sugar program to avoid continuing supply deficits in the future.”

The A.B.A. noted the sugar program is reauthorized every five years in the farm bill.

“A.B.A. has been working with Congress to gain support of several sugar reform initiatives, including the Free Sugar Act, the Free Market Sugar Act, and the Stop Unfair Giveaways and Restrictions Act,” the A.B.A. said. “These bills seek to dramatically reform the current program, allowing greater access to supply and decreasing costs to consumers.”

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