Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump’s Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade

- Updated

MEXICO CITY — The sugar barons of Florida, Alfonso and José Fanjul, have been equal-opportunity political donors for decades, showering largess on the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike to ensure that lawmakers will protect the American sugar industry.

When Donald J. Trump was preparing to take office as president, the Fanjul brothers wrote another check. Among the contributors to Mr. Trump’s inaugural festivities in January was Florida Crystals, a Fanjul-owned company that contributed half a million dollars.

The brothers most likely had more on their mind than a sumptuous ball. Led by the Fanjuls, large American sugar producers and refiners were eager for the new administration to tackle some business left unfinished by the Obama administration: an agreement to control imports of Mexican sugar.

Now, with a Monday deadline for the United States and Mexico to settle on an accord, businesses on both sides of the border are watching to gauge what the sugar negotiations signal about Washington’s approach to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Mexico Agrees to Sugar Deal, but Loopholes Remain, U.S. Refiners Say

Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross, speaking at a news conference in Washington alongside Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s economy minister, said, “We have gotten the Mexican side to agree to nearly every request made by the U.S. sugar industry to address flaws in the current system and ensure fair treatment of American sugar growers and refiners.”

Mr. Ross continued, “Unfortunately, despite all of these gains, the U.S. sugar industry has said it is unable to support the new agreement, but we remain hopeful that further progress can be made during the drafting process.”

Trade experts have kept a close eye on the sugar dispute to gauge the approach that Washington could take in talks to renegotiate Nafta. Although President Trump has backed away from his threat to pull the United States out of that regional trade accord with Mexico and Canada, the administration has given few clues as to how hard a line it will take.

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