In September, President Carter announced a foreign-policy initiative emphasizing the importance of meeting basic human needs - particulary, the alleviation of world hunger and malnutrition.
Unfortunately, the Carter administration's sugar policy, which allows more imported sugar to enter the United States, runs contrary to the President's world hunger initiative. By encouraging developing nations to continue the policy of cash-cropping sugar for export, the administration's sugar policy seriously impairs food security in these countries.
The administration's policy, embodied in The Ways and Means Committee version of the sugar bill, is due to reach the House floor on Thursday. House members must choose between it and the Agriculture Committee's sugar proposals, which I support.
The administration defends its sugar policy by claiming that restricting the importation of sugar into the United States will create an economic hardship for the sugar-exporting developing nations, and will further impoverish teir citizens. The administration's defense, however, is hollow.
Fifty percent of the sugar imported into the United States in 1977 came from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, where cash cropping of sugar for export is dominated by the state at the expense of food security and economic development. An examination of the sugar industry in those countries reveals that the administration's effort to sustain current levels of sugar production contributes substantially to hunger and malnutrition.
The governments of those three countries heavily subsidize the exportation of sugar. Earnings from those exports go chiefly to a few wealthy families who constitue the political elite. Much of production is directed, by government action, toward exports at price below the cost of production. Yet each of the countries charges its own consumers far more for sugar than the price at which the product is exported.
Wage rates for sugar-field workers and mill workers are exceedingly low, actually at poverty level, and working conditions harsh. The employees are not organized and, therefore, are unprotected.
As sugar production in those countries has expanded, food production per person has declined. In the Dominican Republic, from 1969 through 1977, the price of food doubled. From 1970 through 1974, real wages fell by one-third. As a result, Dominicans have had to resort increasingly to a carbohydrate diet. But Carter and his advisers continue to advocate sugar-import policy that promotes cash-cropping. Administration officials claim that developing nations must be able to maintain their current level of sugar exports of the United States to obtain the foreign exchange necessary to stimulate their trade and development.
Administration sugar policy, reflected in the sugar bill reported by the Ways and Means Committee, will allow the current rate of sugar imports to continue or to increase. Such a policy keeps developing nations locked into sugar production at the expense of economic development as well as food security.
The policy, moreover, will allow enough imported sugar into the United States to keep domestic prices down to a 15-cents-per-pound level. That price level, I believe, will lead to the ruin of a large share of the domestic sugar industry.
The administration does not appear to comprehend the pernicious ramifications of cash-cropping sugar in developing nations. Nor does the administration realize that its sugar policy will sacrifice U.S. producers to imported sugar.
The House Agriculture Committee's sugar bill, with its 16-cents price objective to restrict the flow of imported sugar, is the best measure before the House to place a foundation under the domestic sugar industry and to encourage moves toward greater food security - a perequisite for human rights and economic development in the developing nations now dominated by the vagaries of the sugar trade.