What does the prosperity of several thousand Idaho sugar beet farmers have to do with an international treaty affecting 73 countries?
In the eyes of Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), you can't have one without the other.
Church, a raising member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has told the Carter administration that until the president agrees to an acceptable increase in sugar support prices, his subcommittee in foreign economic policy won't begin hearings on ratification of an international sugar agreement initialed in Geneva last Oct. 7.
So far, any plan acceptable to Church is considered inflationary by the adiministration. As a result, "Frank Church has kidnaped the sugar agreement" says one suger lobbyist.
Legislation inroduced by Church and cosponsored by 33 senators would raise the sugar support price 3 1/2 cents a pound to 17 cents and authorize import embargoes against foreign sugar to achieve this price if necessary.
Last week, the administration proposed keeping the support price at its current 13 1/2 cents level, but paying growers an extra 1.55 cents a pound in cash to increase their income.
Sugar industry representatives have been invited to a White House meeting with government officials at 10 a.m. today to discuss the sugar program. A White House aide said that the administration was not prepared to compromise with Church.
In a telephone interview. Church did not rule our a compromise, but said he would not start the sugar agreement ratification process until he got a Carter piedge of support for an "acceptable" plan. He said the present White House plan was not acceptable.
The Carter adminisrtation, which has yet to submit its own bill to Congress, has been criticized on Capitol Hill and by the sugar industry for moving too slowly. Church noted this week that he had waited for nearly five months for the administration to come up with a firm proposal.
At one point, the State Department became so concerned about the effects of continued delays on the international sugar agreement that it drafted a proposed domestic sugar bill and circulated it in the administration.
The international sugar agreement negotiated last year would stabilize world prices at between 11 cents and 21 cents a pound through the use of buffer stocks and export quotas. Administration officials say it cannot work without U.S. participation because this country is the leading sugar importer. Last year, it imported 6.1 million tons of raw sugar worth $1 billion.
World prices are now running slightly above 7 cents a pound. The sugar agreement aims to raise these from their current depressed level to at least 11 cents a pound. A number of exporting countries already have begun to build up stocks - taking sugar off the market and helping prices move toward their goal, as planned in the sugar accord. Representatives of several of these countries said that if the United States fails to ratify, the agreement would collapse and these stocks would go back into trade channels depressing prices.
A local attorney representing several tropical countries that count on sugar for more than 25 percent of their foreign revenue said that "the very well-being of these economies is at stake."
Congress did away with import quotas for individual sugar-producing countries three years ago. Nevertheless, foreign sugar exporters have a stake in this year's legislation. Several contend that high domestic price supports would encoruage a substantial increase in acreage planted in sugar beets that in turn, would decrease foreign sugar's share of the U.S. domestic market.
Cane sugar refineries in New Orleans and Atlantic port cities count on imported raw sugar to keep their plants busy, and they oppose the Church bill.
Industrial sugar users - soft drink, ice cream and pasty mix manufacturers - also oppose higher prices for their sweetening ingredient. The administration claims the Church bill is inflationary.
However, Church says his bill would fix sugar prices about midway in the price schedule of the international sugar agreement.
The current support price of 13 1/2 cents a pound is being maintained with a combination of fees and duties that make up the difference between the lower world price and the American domestic price.