The USDA set the 2011-2012 sugar tariff rate quota, allowing extra specialty sugar to be made available starting Aug. 5, in response to the growing demand for organic sugar. 

The confectionery industry and other food industry sugar users as a whole have been filing pleas for increased tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for a while. Despite the sugar prices that are more than those of other countries, sugar growers argue that U.S. sugar prices are affordable.

According to the USDA, TRQ imports for the year ahead can start on Sept. 1, a month earlier than scheduled, due to tight sugar supplies.

“This action is in response to increased tightness in the U.S. raw cane sugar market,” says the USDA in a statement. The department also set the fiscal year 2012 TRQ for raw cane sugar to 1,231,497 short tons raw value, the minimum level required under U.S. 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 states.

The allocation of specialty sugar is carried out on a first-come, first-served basis, so fiscal year 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 fiscal year 2011 also opened on Aug. 4, says the USDA.

Sugar is the only major agricultural product in the United States subject to import quotas, and only Mexico is exempt, under the North American Free Trade Agreement.