Thank Trade for Affordable Valentine’s Flowers

The National Retail Federation reports that Americans will spend an average of $185.81 on gifts this Valentine’s Day. Candy, greeting cards, and flowers top the list of popular selections.

At a time when inflation remains a concern for many Americans, international trade makes Valentine’s flowers more affordable.

Roughly 80 percent of flowers sold in the United States are imported. The U.S. import-tax rate for imported flowers is close to zero, thanks to free trade agreements with countries like Colombia. This relatively open environment has benefited American flower buyers. Since 2000, the price of flowers has increased less than half as much as the overall U.S. consumer price index.

While trade, technology, and transportation innovations revolutionized the supply of flowers, the story is not so sweet for candy buyers this Valentine’s Day.

Unlike the market for flowers, where Americans are relatively free to buy the best products at the most competitive prices, the market for sugar is largely reserved for U.S. producers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

“The U.S. sugar program uses domestic marketing allotments, tariff-rate quotas (TRQs), and high out-of-quota tariffs to restrict the amount of sugar available to the U.S. market. In conjunction with market price support, the program also supports U.S. sugar prices, which are usually well above comparable prices in the world market.”

In fiscal year 2024, imports accounted for less than one-fourth of the U.S. sugar supply as federal restrictions imposed the equivalent of a 100 percent tax on refined sugar. One unintended but unsurprising consequence of this program has been to encourage manufacturers of candy like Sweethearts to relocate from the United States to Mexico to secure more affordable sugar for their products.

Following the COVID pandemic, the need to promote resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains has taken on new urgency. As Congress moves forward with a new farm bill, lawmakers should take a lesson from our low-tariff flower policy. The federal government should remove inflationary, anti-competitive restrictions on the supply of sugar.