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Page 4


26-8-85

INTERNATIONAL
HERALD TRIBUNE
Published With The New York Times and The Washington Post
Is Sugar Madness Curable ?


It’s summertime and the slurping is heavy : Americans are consuming more sweeteners in everything from wine coolers to granola bars. Experts disagree on whether sugar poses a serious health risk. But there is no doubt that protecting a few thousand domestic sugar producers in the United States Europe cost the consumer, and is bringing ruin to friends in the Third World. Common sense and common decency argue for serious reforms.


Sugar is nature’s most concentrated source of carbohydrates and cane is the world’s most efficient source of sugar. It needs a warm, wet climate and plenty of labor to cultivate. Ideally, all the world’s demand would be met by relatively poor, tropical countries like Brazil, Guatemala and the Philippines. The revenue generated from its export would increase demand for goods from consuming nations. Processing the raw cane would, as the British historian Sidney Mintz points out, offer much needed training in low-tech manufacturing and business organization skills.


Unfortunately, cane can be grown - at higher cost - in Florida, Louisiana and Hawaii. And sugar can also be extrated from sugar beets or synthesized from corn, both of which can be grown in temperate climates. Once these methods gained an economic toehold in the developed world, their managers used their political muscle to limit competition from lower-cost sources.


Third World sugar now sells for about 4 cents a pound. The United States imposes import quotas and tariffs to keep the domestic price at 22 cents a pound. That is so much of a difference that customs officials have been excluding sweetened foods ranging from jam to kosher pizza on the theory that people could profitably extract and sell the sugar.


The European Community pays about the same price to beet farmers. They respond by producing so much sugar that Europe now exports it. The result is a triple whammy :


Consumers and taxpayers in America and Europe end up paying an extra $3 billion to $4 billion for sweeteners.


with demand for Third World sugar artificially depressed by protectipnism, the free market price has fallen to a third of the production cost for efficient Latin American growers. Brazil, desperate to unload the crop, is converting much of it into alcohol, for export as an octane booster in gasoline. Even that market may soon close, as American distillers fight to keep out the competition.


Low sugar prices mean low export earnings for sugar-producing countries. Yhat makes it almost impossible for debtors like the Philippines to repay their loans to American and European banks. And it squeezes living standards, inviting perilous political effects.


The end of this madness is not in sight ; the domestic sugar lobbies carry too much weight to be pushed off welfare. But at least there are now reforms in the wind worth rooting for. The EC sugar subsidies are up for review this year in Brussels. There is hope that Europe will take steps to reduce production, if only to reduce the general pressure on the Community budget for agricultural subsidies.


In the United States, Senators Slade Gorton of Washington and Bill Bradley of New Jersey are sponsoring legislation that would trim a few cents from the domestic support price.


These are small steps. Consumers in rich countries and sugar producers in poor ones deserve much more. But as long as policies in Europe and America are tailored to protect special interests, small steps are probably the best we can expect.


THE NEW YORK TIMES.



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