U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is tasked with handling one of the key parts of President Donald Trump’s agenda: overhauling trade deals to make them more helpful to U.S. industries that have moved jobs to other countries.
But Ross faces a major challenge from America’s sugar industry, which has been considered one of the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. subsidies and protectionism, according to the Financial Times. “Big Sugar” flexes its power with lobbying and financial might – the industry donated $11.2 million to political campaigns last year.
José “Pepe” Fanjul, a Cuban-born Florida sugar baron who controls Florida Crystals, is a major donor to Republican candidates, while his older brother Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul is a longtime Clinton supporter, the FT reported.
Their business interests put them on a collision course with Mexico’s sugar industry, which was helped by the North American Free Trade Agreement’s requirement to get rid of restrictions on Mexican imports.
“A confrontation over Mexican sugar exports to the U.S. is already shaping up — there is a June 5 deadline — and could turn out to be a dress rehearsal for the haggling over NAFTA,” the FT reported in a separate story. “What makes things harder is that unlike his predecessors in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump often paints his neighbor as an enemy.”
The Mexican and U.S. sugar industries have faced off multiple times since NAFTA was enacted in 1994. Accusations of dumping, or claims about unfair government subsidies and punitive tariffs are standard in the negotiations between the two countries.
“U.S. farmers and refiners still accuse the Mexican industry of mounting a state-subsidized assault on their livelihoods and communities, pointing to a 2001 government rescue of the Mexican industry that saw 27 sugar mills nationalized with the last two returning to private hands only last year,” the FT reported.
If the U.S. and Mexico can’t reach a deal by the June 5 deadline, Ross has threatened to impose tariffs of 80 percent or more on Mexican sugar imports.
“Ross is sincerely trying to get a deal but Fanjul and his friends in Congress are putting a huge amount of pressure on him,” James Glassman, a former senior U.S. state department official who is helping the Mexican sugar chamber, told the FT.
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