Sugar policies from Washington to Brussels were on the chopping block this week but there’s still a long road ahead before it becomes clear what those support programmes will end up looking like.
In Brussels, the post-2014 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy has reached the European Parliament, where MEPs have put forward suggestions and amendments to the draft policy developed by the European Commission last year. Though CAP reform is typically one of “co-decision”, where the European Parliament has a say, recent reforms to how European legislation is developed has given more power to Europe’s more than 500 parliamentarians.
This week the EP’s agricultural committee met to discuss a number of key issues which are leading the CAP debate, not least of which is what to do about sugar quotas. In the EC’s draft, sugar production quotas would be ended in 2015 but a number of MEPs from France to Germany want to see those quotas extended through 2020 to give the industry more time to become competitive with sugarcane produced in other parts of the world.
Some MEPs argue that the quotas are needed while others say that public opinion is against continuing sugar quotas—the last remaining production quotas in the CAP after the 2003 reform—so they must end in 2015 as proposed. But sugar producers themselves are pushing hard for the 2020 extension, on one hand on the European level via CIBE and on the national level in the UK with British Sugar, the ACP/LDC countries and the UK’s National Farmers Union all testifying this week in front of the House of Lords Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy Sub-Committee.
For Europe, the question on sugar reform is really just getting off the ground, with a final decision not expected until early 2014. In the US, on the other hand, the sugar programme has been dodging one bullet right after another.
As the US Senate debates the next farm bill, that massive all encompassing piece of legislation that is the only thing that turns party-line legislators by suddenly turning them into farmers with loyalty to specific crops, an amendment to eliminate the sugar programme in its entirety was voted down last week. The amendment was jointly sponsored by the Senator from New Hampshire who earlier in the year introduced standalone legislation meant to achieve the same thing.
But this week, she and others put forward another proposed amendment that wouldn’t have eliminated the sugar programme altogether but would have been “the first steps towards reform” which is only a tad ironic because it took the programme back to how it was before the 2008 farm bill. It would have included eliminating all of the new aspects of the programme including that would have had required excess sugar production to be sold at a discount to ethanol producers.
That amendment suffered the same fate as last week’s amendment and was defeated, much to the relief of the sugar industry and much to the chagrin of the sugar users. Typical responses of jubilation and damnation, respectively, accompanied the narrow vote of 50-46. The vote approving the Senate’s farm bill draft this week, with the existing sugar programme intact, moves the legislation onto the House of Representatives where the bill alongside its own proposals will be debated later in the year with a joint compromise expected before year’s end ahead of a new Congress that will come in in January.
In the meantime, it’s all hands on deck for lobbyists, producers and users alike.