Industry wants mandatory data reporting on both sides of the border

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The U.S. sugar industry wants better trade coordination with Mexico.

A set of joint recommendations made to the two governments includes improved data collection, regular consultation and the formation of a U.S.-Mexico sugar commission, industry officials said Nov. 3.

Since full implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in January 2008, there has been unrestricted duty-free movement of sugar between the two countries. But sugar trade under NAFTA hasn't always run smoothly, industry officials said.

U.S. sugar policy requires the USDA to manage supplies by setting import quotas and domestic marketing allotments. That's been difficult because the agency often has no idea of how much sugar to expect from Mexico, industry officials said.

Using the best available data, the USDA projected imports last year of 550,000 short tons of Mexican sugar. Actual imports ended up being 1.4 million tons -- more than double what was expected.

"Without having a clear picture of what's going on in Mexico, it's very hard to project with any certainty what U.S. supplies will be," Jack Roney, a sugar policy expert with the American Sugar Alliance, said in a press release.

The industry on both sides of the border has recommended that the U.S. and Mexican governments require mandatory data reporting for producers, with penalties for failure to comply or for reporting false information.

The reporting requirement would involve the "timely collection and publication of reliable data on stocks, production, imports, exports and deliveries of sugar in the U.S. and Mexican markets."

The recommendations also include the formation of a permanent joint Mexico-U.S. sugar commission with a private sector advisory committee.

Another recommendation would prevent sugar from non-NAFTA countries such as Brazil or Guatemala from being substituted for domestic supplies.

Under existing policy, Mexico has been allowed to export its own production to the U.S., then import cheaper foreign sugar for domestic consumption.

"That's really against the spirit of NAFTA," Roney said in a teleconference with reporters.

Industry officials said the two governments could be able to implement the recommendations without any legislation or changes to NAFTA and without violating any other trade agreements.

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