Sugar import increase hailed Domino sees easing of supply problems that caused shutdown

January 20, 1996|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

A sugar-import increase approved this week will help to prevent supply problems that shut down Domino Sugar Corp.'s Baltimore plant for about a dozen days last year, plant officials said yesterday.

Domino executives blamed raw-sugar import restrictions and crop problems for supply shortages that closed the factory temporarily.

Now that the Agriculture Department has raised the import ceiling by another 28 percent, the plant should be able to avoid interruptions, said Paul Mirsky, chairman of North American and Australian operations for Tate & Lyle, a British concern that owns Domino.

The controversial import boost represents another round in the years of sparring among U.S. sugar growers, overseas growers, refiners and end-users such as candy manufacturers.

Buyers of raw sugar generally object to import quotas that are designed to support domestic growers, saying they boost prices and hurt supply lines. As a result, refiners such as Domino welcomed the quota boost this week, which the Agriculture Department said is the biggest since 1990.

But U.S. sugar farmers said the easing of the quota was too generous, and could cause a supply glut and lower prices.

"We saw that supplies were tight, and we thought the government would increase the quota," said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association. "We were surprised at the large amount that they had scheduled to bring in."

This was the second adjustment to sugar quotas in recent months.

In November, the Agriculture Department added 300,000 tons of raw sugar to the basic annual quota of 1.25 million tons.

On Thursday, the department said it would allow another 440,000 tons of imports between now and October.

Total U.S. production this year is expected to be 7.5 million tons.

More than 600 people work at Domino's Baltimore plant, which produces 6 million pounds of refined sugar a day. Mr. Mirsky said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, was "instrumental" in getting the import quotas raised.

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