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Big Candy’s Big Scheme

Across the country, nothing is more important to Americans than jobs – whether it’s finding a job or keeping one. In my home state of Louisiana we have been dealt a series of setbacks; population and job losses occurred after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the national economy tanked and then we suffered a devastating Gulf oil spill.

So when a few big American food companies set up a multi-million-dollar lobbying effort to outsource another 16,000 Louisiana jobs and $3.5 billion of my state’s annual economy to Mexico and Brazil, it was flat out insulting.

When it comes to America’s homegrown sugar, there’s no shortage of double talk circulating the halls of Congress these days. Inside the Beltway, Big Candy lobbyists tell lawmakers that U.S. sugar policy is devastating their industry, while at the same time they inform Wall Street that they are “recession proof” and achieving record profits.

Yahoo! Finance data shows candy makers are enjoying bigger profit margins than casinos, healthcare plans and even defense contractors. If that is their definition of being financially harmed, they should visit New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward for a tour – an area that ironically depends on a sugar factory for employment.

They tell Congress that “high sugar prices” are costing voters money. I can tell you first hand, it surprises my former Hill colleagues when they learn sugar prices in Mexico, for example, are much higher. Or that grocery shoppers in other countries pay, on average, 14 percent more for sugar than we do in America. Or that U.S. raw sugar prices are currently below the world price once transportation is considered.

Maybe low ingredient costs explain Big Candy’s record profit margins.

Don’t get me wrong, profits are not intrinsically evil, and I’d never begrudge candy makers for doing well. In fact, I cheer when American companies succeed and expand.

What I begrudge, however, is some companies’ relentless efforts to manipulate Congress into decimating what’s left of Louisiana and America’s sugar industry in hopes of squeezing out an extra penny.

Their plan would leave America dependent on unreliable imports from countries like Brazil that, with over 40 years of lavish government subsidies, controls about 50 percent of the global market. Compare that cartel to OPEC’s Saudi Arabia, which controls only 19 percent of crude oil exports.

There are 142,000 American jobs at stake as we debate the policies surrounding the sugar industry, and those jobs should remain here. For argument’s sake, we can look towards Europe, which rewrote its sugar laws in 2006, and since has lost 120,000 sugar-related jobs. The EU also increased its dependency on sugar imports and its citizens are now paying 20 percent more for sweetened foods.

We have a good recipe here in America for keeping these jobs, regardless of what Big Candy says, and the market proves it. U.S. sugar policy is designed to operate at no taxpayer cost and it works.

Americans deserve smart, cost-effective, common-sense policies. We should think outside the Beltway and keep this one in place.

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