Sugar amendment to Farm Bill fails in the U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that would have scaled back a Depression-era sugar program that supports domestic prices and protects growers, including Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., from foreign competition.

The amendment was defeated Wednesday by a vote of 54-45.

The defeated amendment, in effect, saved Hawaii’s only remaining sugar plantation and saved 800 jobs for Valley Isle residents, according to news releases from Hawaii Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono.

Hirono called the amendment a “raw deal for Hawaii and sugar producers across the country.”

“Much is said about ‘made in America’ products, and this measure does the opposite. It would have virtually zeroed out American sugar producers and forced us to depend on heavily subsidized foreign producers for this important commodity,” she said.

Schatz said the U.S. Senate “saved the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which is the state’s sole producer of raw and special sugar and is critical to Maui’s workforce and economy.”

“HC&S provides $56 million in wages to 800 Maui residents that have served as a cornerstone of this company and community for decades,” he said.

Schatz said that the base price provided by the sugar program is “critical to staying competitive with foreign governments who subsidize their growers and dump sugar onto the world and domestic markets.”

“The elimination of this program would result in numerous U.S. sugar growers, including HC&S . . . shutting down or significantly reducing their operations,” Schatz said.

There was no immediate comment Wednesday from HC&S or its parent company, Alexander & Baldwin.

Candy producers and other food and beverage suppliers maintain that government protections for domestic sugar farmers artificially restrict supplies, force consumers to pay more for sugar products and benefit only a few thousand well-off growers.