Letter says lack of U.S. participation 'glaring and embarrassing'

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The U.S. needs to rejoin the International Sugar Organization after a conspicuous 17-year absence, producers and users have told federal officials.

The ISO is the leading global forum for sharing sugar market information and forecasts, industry officials said. When the World Trade Organization needs information about sugar, it consults the ISO.

The United States was a charter member of the organization in 1937 and remained a member for 56 years.

It's high time that the U.S. rejoin the group, leaders of the American Sugar Alliance and Sweetener Users Association wrote in a March 24 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

"The United States' absence, as a leading developed country and one of the world's largest sugar producers, consumers and importers, is notable and deprives us of a voice in an important international forum," sugar producers and food manufactures said in the letter.

The 2008 Farm Bill directed the administration to restore U.S. membership in the ISO within one year.

In a separate letter to the same three administration officials, the sweetener industry's Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee pointed out that it has now been nearly two years since passage of the farm bill, yet the U.S. still hasn't rejoined the ISO.

"Our country's lack of participation in this international forum is glaring and embarrassing," committee members told administration officials in the letter.

The U.S. is the world's fifth largest producer and consumer of sugar and has recently climbed to become the world's largest net importer.

Industry officials argue that the ISO is only about information gathering and sharing, so there shouldn't be any concerns about anticompetitive activity resulting from membership.

The International Sugar Agreement, which the ISO administers, contains no economic provisions -- no production, stock, trade or price objectives, industry officials said.

The ISO has also been the leader in tracking a relatively new development -- the increasing share of global sugar cane and sugar beet production that's going into ethanol production, industry officials said.

Membership in the organization would cost about $148,000 per year.

ISO's membership has been growing and now includes virtually every major sugar producing country, industry officials said.

The organization's 85 members now account for 83 percent of global sugar production and 95 percent of exports.

Online

International Sugar Organization: www.isosugar.org

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