CAMPAIGN ’88 : Gephardt on Quotas

Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt has wowed Iowa farmers by attacking Japan’s unfair trade practices. Now it appears that Japan may have cause to strike back.

“Rice in Japan--a staple of their diet--costs seven times what it does in the United States, because they won’t let any foreign rice in,” Gephardt said at a Cedar Rapids rally last week. “It’s not right; it’s not just. It’s not fair.”

But Gephardt considers it fair in the United States, where he voted in 1981 and 1985 to retain an often-criticized quota program for a handful of American sugar producers.

The program, which the Reagan Administration has sought to repeal, keeps sugar prices high for U.S. producers by limiting import competition from foreign sources. Congressional sources say it has artificially boosted the producer price of sugar more than threefold, from 6 cents to about 20 cents a pound.

More important, it has halved U.S. sugar purchases from Caribbean nations, where sugar sales are a major source of foreign exchange for some of the hemisphere’s poorest economies. Critics of the program maintain it may force some U.S. neighbors into closer economic relations with the Soviet Union and other communist countries that are more willing to buy their sugar.

Gephardt says his support of U.S. sugar quotas is not inconsistent with his attack on Japanese rice quotas because the Japanese ban most imports, whereas the United States “tried to work out something where they (the Caribbean nations) could get a share of our market.

“We’ve had a devil of a time keeping our sugar people in business, and that’s why I voted the way I did,” he said. “We’re not perfect.”