Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Timing is Sweet

Yesterday, Dean Jim Chen, visiting here at the University of Arkansas School of Law as part of our Day with a Dean program delivered a lecture in the Agricultural Law LL.M. Finance & Credit class on his article, Around the World in Eighty Centileters.

In this article, and in Dean Chen's lecture, he discussed the interplay of trade, taxation (particularly through regulation and subsidy), and social justice. He used the typical North American coffee service, a carafe of coffee with cream and sugar on the side, to illustrate his analysis and to pointedly criticize certain aspects of U.S. farm policy.

The U.S. sugar program is an easy target. Quoting Dean Chen, [t]his program succeeds like no other in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich." Through a non-recourse loan system that effectively guarantees a high price to U.S. producers and a two-tiered mechanism of import tariffs, the sugar program imposes billions of dollars of costs each year on U.S. consumers and has a tremendously negative impact on trade with poor tropical countries far more suited for growing sugarcane.

As the New York Times opined last week, in Sugar's Sweetheart Deal , "[o]f all the government’s farm-support programs, there are few as egregious as the tangle of loans, quotas and import tariffs set up to protect the well-connected club of American sugar producers at the expense of American consumers and farmers in the developing world." The new farm bill passed by the House contains a 1 billion dollar ten year sugar subsidy program. And, as Professor Mark J. Perry reveals in a recent post on his Carpe Diem blog, Harvesting Cash: A Billion Dollars for Big Sugar, the current sugar programs already result in a U.S. price for sugar that is more than twice the world rate.

And now, to the sweet timing. Today's Washington Post highlights the timeliness of Professor Chen's presentation. Sweet Money: Sugar Industry Expands Influence (part of the Post's Harvesting Cash Series) provides us more detailed information on the current farm bill debate by exposing the lobbying efforts behind the "sweetheart deal". For example the Post reports that "nine sugar farm or refinery groups have made more than 900 separate contributions totaling nearly $1.5 million to candidates, parties and political funds."

An interesting, but discouraging read for those of us who would like to see farm policies that make sense for consumers as well as farmers. Isn't that what U.S. farmers' purported goal of "feeding the world" should really be about?


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