Secretary General Alejandro Orfila of the Organization of American States declared yesterday that the Carter administration's decision to raise sugar tariffs has victimized Latin American producers and raised fears of a return to protectionism in Washington.
The OAS leader also charged that the action was taken, "as in too many other cases," without consulting the OAS committee that the United States helped set up precisely for such trade dicussions.
President Carter issued proclamations Saturday raising tariffs on sugar imports in order to provide relief for domestic producers. The tariffs are expected to raise prices to U.S. consumers by 3 1/2 cents a pound.
Orfila noted that while the U.S. consumer was thus affected, "the new jump in the U.S. tariff on top of last year's tariff increase clearly means a gain of between $350 million and $500 million to the U.S. Treasury from lesser developed countries."
A former Argentine ambassador to the United States, Orfila pointed out that Latin American producers - mainly the Dominican Republic, Peru, Guatemala, Panama and Brazil - "are the principal and reliable suppliers of the U.S. sugar markets."
In the eyes of the Latin suppliers, Orfila said, payment of tariffs to the United States is "a form of foreign aid in reverse, aid provided to the U.S. at the expense of poorer nations."
Loss of income through tariff payments and cutbacks in U.S. imports also "cuts into Latin America's power to purchase more goods in the U.S. market," he said.
The outspoken criticism from the OAS was unusual. Although secretary general, Orfila serves at the behest of the OAS permanent council of representatives from the 25 member nations.
The council guards its prerogatives and frequently has reprimanded Orfila when he has taken initiative. However, on the sugar issue, the Latin nations seem united.
Orfila praised U.S. efforts in negotiations that culminated last month in a new International Sugar Agreement that is seen as a long-term method of assuring stable prices, thereby benefitting producers and consumers.
But "OAS sugar-exporting countries are deeply disturbed by the contradictory" move Saturday and the failure to consult through the OAS Special Committee for Consultation and Negotiation on trade matters, Orfila said.
In an earlier U.S. failure to consult, oil-exporters Venezuela and Ecuador were affected by the punitive provisions of the 1974 Trade Act aimed at participants in the oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Neither country had joined the embargo.
That setback to U.S. relations with Latin America has yet to be repaired.
On the sugar question, Orfila urged that the United States revive its policy of supporting the International Sugar Agreement and return "any fees it collects from the producing less-developed countries to them."