As if we didn't have enough problems, out of the blue, "swine flu" hits the headlines.
In the past year, the whole world has fallen into a suffocating global recession. Just when we get a little oxygen and have an indication that the recession is bottoming out, swine flu panic spreads.
Recessions limit exports and the American farmer suffers. We export 30 percent of what we produce. I don't even want to think about the price our products would be worth if it were not for global markets. The recession has given an excuse for a lot of countries to accept protectionist policies. We are no exception. We stopped Mexican trucks from going into the U.S. to deliver and pick up product. The Mexican government immediately retaliated by putting a tariff on some of our exports to Mexico. Our soybean producers are very concerned about possible tariffs on their products.
The World Trade Organization estimates that global exports will contract by 9 percent this year. In addition, we are still talking about altering NAFTA. That could have serious repercussions. Not surprising - for every trade action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As a net exporter, that's not good for American agriculture.
Now, with swine flu on the world stage, importing countries are using this as an excuse to restrict our products. Russia, China and the Philippines have suspended imports of pork from Mexico and some parts of the U.S. An ironic fact is that there is no link between pork consumption and the swine flue virus. The virus is being spread person to person.
This is not the first time the world has faced a possible flu pandemic. In 1918, the Spanish flu hit Europe. Fifty million people died. Then, we had Asian flu in 1957. Then, the Hong Kong flu in 1968. Swine flu in 1976. Russian flu in 1977. Avian flu in 1997.
When it rains, it pours.
Let's hope this threat is short-lived, and we can get on with our economic recovery and keep the trade channels open.
John Block, former Secretary of Agriculture, is a senior policy adviser at Olsson, Frank and Weeda, P.C., a law and lobbying firm in the fields of environmental and agricultural law.
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