Members of the confectionery industry, as well as other sugar users in the food industry as a whole, have been filing pleas for increased tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for some time. Meanwhile, sugar growers argue that US sugar prices are affordable, despite sugar prices well above those of other countries.
The USDA said tariff rate quota imports for the year ahead can begin on September 1 – a month earlier than scheduled – because of tight sugar supplies.
“This action is in response to increased tightness in the US raw cane sugar market,” the department said in a statement.
The USDA also set the FY 2012 TRQ for raw cane sugar to 1,231,497 short tons raw value, the minimum level required under US trade commitments, but increased the raw specialty sugar TRQ by 10,000 short tons.
“This increase is needed to accommodate a rapidly growing processed organic foods sector,” it said.
The allocation of specialty sugar is carried out on a first-come, first-served basis, so FY 2012 specialty sugar will be opened in five tranches, with the second, third, fourth and fifth tranches dedicated to organic sugar and “other specialty sugars not currently produced commercially in the United States or reasonably available from domestic sources.”
A new tranche for specialty sugar in FY 2011 will also be opened on August 4, the USDA said.
According to a recent report from Packaged Facts, US sales of organic foods and beverages continued to outpace conventional grocery sales in 2010, with the market growing 8.5 percent to reach $23.2bn at retail.
Sugar is the only major agricultural product in the United States that is subject to import quotas, and only Mexico is exempt, under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of sweeteners, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and is one of the world’s biggest sweetener importers, according to the USDA.
The Federal Register notice detailing the USDA’s sugar TRQ is viewable online here.