US sugar growers and sugar workers vowed to fight possible trade deals with Thailand, Andean countries, Brazil and other nations after the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement passed the House of Representatives by a two-vote margin, the American Sugar Association said.

“This bloody CAFTA battle served no one’s best interests, and it’s our hope that everyone learns from this experience,” said Terry Jones, a Wyoming farmer and president of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association.

“America’s sugar farmers would like to work in a bipartisan effort with Congress and the Administration to keep future trade debates from reaching this point,” he said. The US is negotiating trade deals with 21 other sugar-producing countries, which export 25 million tons of sugar annually, enough to eliminate US sugar production.

“If CAFTA becomes the precedent, this will be just the first round of a 21-round fight,” explained Louisiana cane grower Jessie Breaux after the vote. “We don’t want to fight this battle over and over again, but were prepared to if we have to. We cannot let a failed trade policy destroy an industry that’s been part of Louisiana for more than 200 years.”

Steve Williams, a Minnesota sugar beet producer and president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, added, “America’s sugar farmers are indebted to the members of Congress who stood by us on CAFTA, and we hope we can count on them to oppose any trade deal that gives away more of our sugar market.”

Sugar growers aren’t opposed to trade liberalization, and welcome the opportunity to address sugar issues at the World Trade Organization level, where foreign subsidies can be addressed, the ASA said.

“Tonight, we invite all sugar-producing countries to sit down with us at the WTO negotiating table,” said Fritz Stein, a sugar grower from Florida. “Let’s eliminate all subsidies and all tariffs and compete as business people. We are efficient and believe we can go toe to toe with farmers around the globe.”

The US is the only major sugar producer that has ever granted significant market access to another sugar producer in a bilateral or regional trade agreement, the ASA said. The US is the fourth largest net sugar importer, buying from 41 countries. (Dow Jones)