US WILLING TO AID SUGAR EXPORTERS BUT STILL OPPOSED TO BONUS PLAN

US WILLING TO AID SUGAR EXPORTERS BUT STILL OPPOSED TO BONUS PLAN

White House officials told ambassadors from sugar-exporting nations they will continue trying to ease the effect of cuts in the U.S. sugar quota, but did not change their opposition to a sugar export bonus plan, sources said.

Ambassadors from Caribbean Basin Initiative nations and the Philippines met last week with White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and officials from the National Security Council, U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Department.The ambassadors requested the meeting to discuss a troubled export bonus program for 400,000 short tons of sugar.

They did not promise us anything in concrete, said Alfredo Milian, a Salvadoran Embassy official.

An administration official who followed the talks agreed.

We said we would revisit the question of what we can do to help them with the problem of sugar, not the (export bonus) plan, the official said.

The USDA said earlier this month it did not have legal authority to implement the one-year export bonus program, passed by Congress in December. Under the original program, 290,000 tons of sugar from the Caribbean Basin and 110,000 from the Philippines would have been imported into the United States in fiscal 1988 - above the sugar import quota.

U.S. refiners would have bid for Commodity Credit Corp. generic certificates to subsidize the difference between the cost of processing the sugar and the world selling price, and would have had to export a like amount of sugar for every ton imported.

Since the USDA announcement, supporters of the export bonus plan have been scrambling to find a sponsor for an amendment to the trade bill to clear up legal issues surrounding the program, and expand it through 1991.

Administration support for the trade bill amendment, or at least the absence of strong opposition, is essential to those efforts, sources said.

However, USDA Secretary Richard Lyng and other administration officials earlier this month warned House and Senate conferees against adding new sugar provisions to the trade bill.

The draft sugar proposal would require imports of a minimum of 400,000 tons of Caribbean Basin and Filipino sugar each year through 1991. The USDA would be required to subsidize exports of U.S.-refined sugar in a like amount to the import volume.

The program, estimated to cost roughly $130 million a year, would be funded through the USDA's export enhancement program.

If the plan were passed, sugar exports could require anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent of annual export enhancement funds, one industry source said.