Mrs. J.A. Tiedt sat down at a table across from a high school teacher in Culver, Indiana, 75 years ago this month and became the first person in her town to receive a book of sugar ration stamps.
It was May 1942 and World War II was raging across Europe. Sugar was the first food staple rationed by the U.S. government during the war.
Back then America imported nearly all its sugar. "Sugar means ships," one famous government message read. It explained that America relied on ships to import sugar and those ships were now needed for the war.
Sugar was such a valuable commodity, and in such short supply, that rationing continued until 1947 – two years after the end of the war.
Wartime rationing pushed U.S. officials to create a secure domestic supply with a policy that encouraged homegrown production and helped insulate U.S. farmers and consumers from the worst of the grossly distorted global sugar market.
It worked. Today, the sugar industry supports 142,000 American farm jobs in 22 states and has an annual economic impact of $20 billion.
But now, the nation could be moving in the opposite direction and right back toward a system that favors foreign suppliers over U.S. farmers and once again relies on imports, said American Sugar Alliance (ASA) spokesman Phillip Hayes.
Mexico walked away from the negotiating table last week during talks to bring it into compliance with U.S. unfair trade laws. Instead, Mexico is demanding that it be allowed to continue to dump subsidized sugar onto the U.S. market to the detriment of more efficient American producers.
"The United States must enforce the laws it has in place to prevent injury from dumping and subsidization," Hayes said. "Mexico’s trade abuses are killing American jobs and weakening our food security."
Mexico’s disregard for fair trade since 2013 has cost U.S. sugar producers more than $4 billion in lost revenue, Hayes explained, and numerous good-paying jobs.
In December of last year, Hawaii ended sugar production after more than a century in the business because of long-term price depression. A sugarbeet factory in Wyoming is about to close, and other farms and processing facilities could soon face the same fate, unless changes are made.
The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) extended the deadline to reach an agreement with Mexico to June 5 after talks broke down. If Mexico refuses to shape up by then, DOC promised to impose antidumping and countervailing duties of more than 80 percent.
Hayes said U.S. producers are hopeful that Mexico will agree to play by the rules. But if they won’t, the domestic industry is thankful DOC has agreed to enforce duties required the law.
Last week, key members of Congress wrote a letter to President Trump expressing similar appreciation of the stance against a subsidized Mexican sugar industry.
"For far too long, Mexico has cheated the system," Hayes said. "We are thankful that the Trump administration appears ready to protect American jobs by enforcing the law when it comes to fair trade with Mexico."