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HONEY BEES POLLINATE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

honey

HONEY BEES POLLINATE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

Harvesting season in the Central Valley

Stretched across some 500 miles throughout California’s Central Valley, almond hulls are splitting open, signaling the beginning of harvesting season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that California’s almond growers are set to produce a bumper crop this year of about 2.5 billion pounds, about 70 percent of which will be exported around the world.

It’s an industry that drives about one-quarter of California’s farm exports and generates about $21.5 billion in economic output for the region including growing, processing and manufacturing activities.

A productive crop must be nourished

California is blessed with the perfect climate for almond production, but it must import one of its most important ingredients: pollinators for the almond blooms.

Every February, two out of every three commercial bee hives in the United States are transported to California, their bee residents pressed into service of the almond bloom.

In fact, it’s just the start of an annual food pollinating bee tour. Anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the bee population kept as livestock crisscross the United States foraging on the blooms of crops that will eventually make their way into our grocery stores and into overseas markets.

Pollinated crop acreage

First stop, almond orchards

For most commercial bees, the pollinating season begins with almonds, California’s largest crop. To provide a sense of scale, Scientific American estimates it takes some two million hives – more than 31 billion honeybees – to pollinate the Central Valley’s 90 million almond trees during their two-week bloom. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the bees gather nectar and pollen to feed their colonies, enabling them to triple their population.

Once almonds bloom in January, hives are moved to other spring-blooming orchards such as cherries and plums in California or apples in the Pacific Northwest. Some head to Texas to pollinate squashes, others to citrus fruit orchards in Florida, and others are dispatched to pollinate cranberries in Wisconsin and cherries in Michigan.

In all, these busy bee travelers pollinate over 90 different crops and then sweeten the deal by shifting into delicious honey production by the end of summer, which they will nourish themselves on over winter while we get to consume the rest. Americans consume a staggering 1.6 pounds of honey per person every year. Even though U.S. beekeepers produced 148 million pounds of honey in 2017 and exported 9.9 million pounds, we imported 447.5 million pounds to keep up with demand from consumers and food producers.

Mobile beehive on trucks
Millions of bees are “exported” state to state to pollinate 90 different American crops.

One in every three bites of food

From cucumbers and citrus fruits to watermelon, kiwis, berries, cherries, apples, melons, peaches, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins and almonds, one-third of the U.S. food supply relies on pollination by the hard-working honey bee.

And, of course, since the United States is a major exporter of agricultural crops, we could say that honey bees help pollinate our trade opportunities. That’s true globally for hundreds of billions worth of crop production and internationally traded food that depends on pollinators.

$15 billion in value for 90 crops

Healthy bees, healthy trade in food

When bees get sick, the health of the U.S. agriculture economy and agricultural exports is imperiled.

Although honey bees are not the only pollinators supporting U.S. agriculture, they are the most important, adding more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural crops each year according to the U.S. Pollinator Health Task Force.

Colony collapse disorder over the last few years drew widespread attention, but the decline in North American honey bees is a long-term trend. In 1947, there were about six million colonies but today we are down to about 2.5 million.

Sharp declines were seen following the introduction in 1987 of an external parasitic mite, aptly named Varroa destructor, that feeds on the blood of honey bees. Loss rates over the winter have been averaging around 31 percent since 2006, far exceeding the 15-17 percent that commercial bee keepers say is economically sustainable.

The rise of monoculture agriculture with increased reliance on pesticides and reduced use of cover crops is thought to add stress on bee health. The bees are struggling to maintain a varied and high-quality diet – they need protein from pollen and carbohydrates from the nectar of flowering plants. Without adequate nutrition, they are also more vulnerable to viruses.

1 in 3 bites

Experts have organized into research consortia, working groups and task forces to try to determine what can be done. The factors negatively impacting bee health are multiple, complex, and interacting, requiring a similarly comprehensive approach to combat them, including restoration of habitats, dissemination of best practices in hive management, and investments in research to better understand how to prevent colony loss.

We are all invested in their success, and when you see honey bees buzzing around your garden this summer, think about the humble but essential role their busywork plays in U.S. food production and agricultural exports.

This article is adapted from “Honey Bee Health is Serious Business” by Andrea Durkin for Progressive Economy.

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

invasive

INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES ARE STOWAWAYS IN GLOBAL TRADE

Murder Hornets, Really?

As if 2020 could get any worse, enter the “murder hornet”. Measuring around two inches, the Asian giant hornet is a particularly nasty variety. They have longer stingers than the honeybee and their venom is more toxic – and they can sting repeatedly.

Sadly, these predators are known to decimate honeybee colonies. A cool fact from National Geographic is that Japanese honeybees have learned to protect themselves by surrounding the hornets and cooking them alive through intense flapping that reaches temperatures of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Japanese honeybees developed this defense as they co-evolved with the Asian giant hornet in a common native habitat.

First spotted in the state of Washington last December, the Asian giant hornet is thought to have entered the United States through shipping containers. As an invasive alien species to the United States, our honeybees are defenseless against this hornet.

Stowaways and Hitchhikers

Human travelers and importers sometimes intentionally transplant species to new locations for food, economic, or environmental purposes, such as for use as biological control agents. Though such approaches should be approved by regulators, illicit trade in plants, seeds and wildlife is a significant problem in global trade. And if you’ve seen those adorable agriculture-sniffing beagles in airports, their job is to catch illegal importation of fruits, vegetables, animal products, soil and samples people try to stow in their personal baggage.

These are all vectors for the introduction of invasive alien species, but the much bigger cause of the spread of non-native species throughout the world is international shipping in global trade.

Alien species hitch rides on agricultural commodities, stow away in shipping containers, get ejected into new waters through the purging of ship ballast water or embed themselves in wood packaging materials, among other modes of unintentional introduction through shipping.

Aerial top view of fishing boat

Invasive weeds threaten fishing livelihoods and trade in aquatic goods.

Not Wanted: Moths, Mollusks and Beetles

Cargo ships carry water as ballast. At the end of an ocean voyage, freighters jettison the ballast water they took on at the port of origin but in so doing, they can introduce a non-native and sometimes aggressive and invasive aquatic species like zooplankton into new waters at the port of destination. Other unwelcome travelers include aquatic plants, algae or small animals that attach themselves to the hull of a ship.

Growing up in Michigan, I recall the invasion of Zebra mussels, native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, that were transported to the Great Lakes region through ballast water discharge. They quickly spread throughout the United States causing infrastructure damage and economic losses along the way, not to mention being unsightly along the Great Lakes beaches.

Asian gypsy moths are another example of a pest whose eggs are easily transported in international shipping containers. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) closely monitors incoming vessels from the gypsy moth’s native lands of Japan, China, Korea and Far East Russia. During the annual Asian gypsy moth infestation season, APHIS requires that vessels from high-risk Asian ports bound for U.S. ports provide pre-departure certifications that they are free of the moths. APHIS also inspects for moth egg masses on incoming ships.

The Asian longhorn beetle is anathema to many species of broadleaf trees in North America and Europe but is suspected to have been introduced through infested wood packing material made of unprocessed raw wood. Because of the pest risk, international standards have been developed to require heat treatment or fumigation of wood packaging materials used in international trade.

Stowaway species

Coming and Going

Invasive alien species can present a major threat to biological diversity by disturbing native ecosystems and habitats, causing native species to decline. The introduction of foreign pathogens and infectious diseases poses a threat to livestock and human health. Trade is the route by which many invasive alien species are introduced to new environments, and ultimately, the disruption to agricultural productivity can end up costing hundreds of billions of dollars every year through lost opportunities to trade.

For example, rats transported on ships are estimated to consume as much as 50 percent of Madagascar’s annual rice production. Fruit fly infestations have spread rapidly in West Africa, devastating mango, citrus and other tropical fruit production for export. The spread of pig disease like the swine flu has required farmers to cull herds and sacrifice exports.

Invasive grasses can ruin pastures important to animal grazing. Harmful algal blooms like the “red tide” along Florida’s Gulf Coast can deplete oxygen in waters and release toxins that kill fish and make shellfish dangerous to eat. Beyond agriculture, invasive alien species have caused the spread of infectious diseases, hampering business travel and tourism, a key economic driver for many countries – just as we’re witnessing now with COVID-19.

Prevent Invasive Species without Unduly Restricting Trade

The Convention on Biological Diversity requires countries to prevent the introduction of invasive alien species, as feasible and appropriate, and to control or eradicate them if introduced.

Because the introduction of alien species occurs largely through trade, the measures governments take to prevent their introduction will – by definition – be trade restrictive to some degree. They often involve controls at ports of entry, appropriate use of quarantine and remediation procedures.

International conventions on biodiversity, plant protection, prevention of animal disease and related trade agreements, preeminently the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), are designed to achieve the objectives of protecting plant, animal and human health without unnecessarily restricting trade. WTO members are encouraged to adopt the guidelines and recommendations developed in global bodies specializing in plant and animal health and to make best efforts to harmonize SPS measures to facilitate trade.

To achieve the twin goals of protecting against the introduction of harmful species while facilitating trade, governments need to have in place transparent standards and procedures based on evidence and science-based risk assessments. Regulatory authorities must have expertise and competencies at the borders as well as phytosanitary and veterinary infrastructure such as diagnostic laboratories and proper storage to conduct inspections at entry points. And, ideally, more governments will implement IT systems to ensure that SPS procedures and certifications are integrated with other border systems. Scientific and regulatory cooperation across agencies and across governments is critical for effective monitoring, prevention and control of the global spread of harmful invasive alien species, which is in everyone’s interest.

Fruit fly hitchhiker

Where Trade and Nature Intersect

A 2017 study in the journal Nature Communications found that the problem of invasive alien species has continuously increased, with more than a third of all new introductions recorded between 1970 and 2014. Introductions of algae, mollusks and insects in particular increased steeply after 1950, mostly likely as a consequence of the growth of global trade.

The arrival of murder hornets on the west coast is just the latest reminder that increased trade volume, changes in trade routes, and the expansion of airport and seaport capacity around the world means having to deal with the unwelcome stowaways in global trade.

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.
nebraskans

NEBRASKANS SUPPORT TRADE BUT TRUST IN MEDIA AND WASHINGTON IS LOW

A new survey of Nebraskans finds that citizens appreciate trade’s benefits, especially for farmers and ranchers, but want more reliable information about trade policy.

Anxious but confident: the more international trade the better

Nebraskans surveyed are anxious about the economy but confident with respect to the importance of trade to their state’s agricultural production complex.

Released last month by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), the new report, “U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class: Perspectives from Nebraska,” assesses state views about how U.S. foreign policy interacts with the economic wellbeing of the middle class in the nation’s heartland. The research team interviewed over 130 Nebraskans in six communities across the state in the summer of 2019 (before the economy was further affected by the coronavirus pandemic) to gauge their perceptions.

Whether respondents hailed from urban Omaha or rural Scottsbluff, and whether they worked directly in agriculture or in health care, local government or education, those interviewed were remarkably consistent and clear on the subject of trade policy and the state’s agriculture sector: the more international trade, the better.

Focus Group Cities

The big picture is not the only picture in the Nebraska economy

Macro-level statistics obscure the importance of Nebraska’s agriculture sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that manufacturing contributes more than twice as much as agriculture to Nebraska’s GDP (10.9 percent versus 4.9 percent, respectively). But within manufacturing, “food and kindred products” is the top category. The broader agricultural production complex includes processing but also transportation, warehousing, agriculture-related research, and other professional services such as IT, legal, insurance, and financial.

Thus, while Nebraska has a diversified economy and workforce, one in four jobs is directly or indirectly tied to the state’s agricultural production complex, according to UNL researchers. Some interviewees pointed to main street businesses like car dealerships as a barometer for agriculture, saying that farmers are more likely to purchase new cars or trucks when they have profitable years.

As the report notes, “Even if they do not hold one of those ag-related jobs, most Nebraskans likely benefit in some way from the revenues the sector generates. That may explain why so many of those interviewed, whether directly involved with agriculture or not, said they supported any trade policies that worked best for farmers, ranchers, and others associated with the agricultural production complex.”

Trade a most important foreign policy

Exports dominate the discourse on trade

The Nebraskans interviewed spoke about trade almost exclusively in terms of exports, perhaps not surprising for a state that consistently ranks highly in the production and export of many agricultural products from soybeans and corn to beef and beef products. Nebraska’s most important export markets are Canada and Mexico, U.S. free trade agreement partners.

The majority of those interviewed saw U.S. trade agreements as benefiting Nebraskan agriculture, in particular the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the U.S. trade deal with Japan (as a second best alternative to the Transpacific Partnership, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2017). While many supported the President’s tough stance against China, they also worried about the potential for future lost market share due to shifting supply chains brought on by the trade war. In the voice of one interviewee, over the long run, the United States needs to “focus [more] on developing markets…and less…on picking a fight with China.”

The seeming invisibility of imports

Imports were rarely mentioned by those interviewed, whether from a consumer or supply chain perspective. Aside from one manufacturer who said that increased steel tariffs had put cost pressure on his inputs, most discussion of tariffs revolved instead around retaliation on U.S. agriculture exports, not the impact of U.S. tariffs on imports. This is not surprising: exports are celebrated in news releases and headlines. Import data is portrayed in the negative light of trade imbalances. Imports of intermediate goods make up 60 percent of global trade by some estimates, but in the form of parts and components for the production of final goods, they lack visibility.

U.S. import tariffs have likely affected consumer prices to some degree. In research prepared for the Yeutter Institute by Edward Balistreri of Iowa State University, tariffs imposed in 2018 and 2019 as part of the U.S.-China trade war may have cost Nebraska’s households as much as $600 per year through a combination of lost export opportunities, increased productions costs, and increased consumer prices. A potential doubling of tariff costs on imported items theoretically risked households near the lower bounds of the middle-income range falling out of the middle-income bracket while those tariffs were in place. Despite being a pocketbook issue, the cost of imports was notably absent as a topic of discussion across interviews.

View on China engagement

There is more than one “heartland”

The Carnegie Endowment conducted similar interviews and focus groups in Ohio in 2018 and Colorado in 2019. There are important nuances among and within these three states. On trade policy, Nebraskans were far more aligned in their views than Ohioans.

Nebraskans tend to view agriculture as the backbone of the state’s economy, leading to more consistent opinions on the beneficial role of trade. Ohio has a much larger manufacturing workforce that has experienced heavy losses in recent years, with trade policy and globalization often taking the blame. This perception has led to deep divisions over trade policy among those interviewed in Ohio.

In comparing the three states, the report notes that such “place-based economic considerations appeared to drive attitudes on the intersection of U.S. foreign policy with the perceived economic interests of America’s middle class.”

“I don’t trust Washington”

Unfortunately, where participants in all three states did seem to agree was in their mistrust of institutions and their sources of information regarding foreign policy.

Project participants consistently said they did not trust the news media or official Washington to provide unbiased information about trade and foreign policy. As a result, many said they do not always feel they have enough knowledge to develop well-informed opinions. They also do not believe that decisions about foreign policy are made with middle America’s economic interests in mind.

One Nebraska participant illustrated a common sentiment in expressing, “I don’t think anybody knows what the truth is and I don’t …trust Washington to tell me what the truth is.” If participants wanted to learn more about trade and foreign policy, they often said they did not know where to find trustworthy sources of information.

Quote about trust

How to amplify middle-class voices?

At a time of intense debate over what the aims of U.S. trade policy should be, such depth of perspective from Americans across the country is important. Do we need new structures to gather it?

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative formally seeks public comment as part of its process to determine negotiating priorities and statutorily maintains 26 advisory committees to make sure U.S. negotiating objectives “reflect U.S. public and private sector interests.” The advisory system includes a committee designed for input from state and local level leaders. Yet these structures are neither visible nor accessible to most Americans.

Elected officials may of course offer input outside of these constructs. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts gave an example on an episode of the Yeutter Institute’s Trade Matters podcast:

“When there was a rumor that the United States was going to pull out of the South Korean Trade Agreement, I picked up the phone on a Friday afternoon to call our U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Lighthizer, to tell him how bad that would be for Nebraska,” Governor Ricketts said.

“He called me back on Sunday afternoon, so very responsive…he doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear, but certainly wanted to listen as I was talking about why South Korea was such an important trading partner.”

Place-based trade policies?

Governor Ricketts’ comments and the report findings reinforce a central conundrum of trade policy: it has disparate impacts on the economies of different U.S. states.

In their pursuit of the national interest, foreign policy professionals, including trade negotiators, understandably do not want to pick winners and losers or wade into domestic politics. But integrating more information about the economic experience of middle-class Americans into the trade policymaking process can help inform policy options that anticipate the losses — and local opportunities — from trade policy.

Meanwhile, what about those who said they wanted to learn more about trade and foreign policy, but did not know where to find information they could trust? They also reported that locally trusted leaders can play a key role in how people think about policies. Perhaps such leaders are a starting point for deeper conversations about trade.

Related in the series by The Carnegie Endowment on U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class:

-Perspectives from Colorado

-Perspectives from Ohio

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Jill O'Donnell

Jill O’Donnell is a professor of practice and the director of the Clayton Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is the host of the institute’s Trade Matters podcast. She served on the research team for the report discussed in this article, along with colleagues from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, in partnership with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.
Argentina

ARGENTINA APPLIES OVER 500 EXPORT DUTIES – HOW’S THAT WORKING OUT?

Argentina is no stranger to economic crisis. Nearly 600 different export taxes aren’t helping.

Argentina is no stranger to economic crisis. Before the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina was experiencing more than 50 percent annual inflation, among the highest in the world. The IMF recorded a 2.5 percent drop in Argentina’s GDP in 2018, which shrank another 2.2 percent in 2019, throwing some 40 percent of the population into poverty. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of almost 90 percent and facing economic contraction of as much as 5.7 percent this year, Argentina’s government stands at the brink of its ninth default on international loans.

How could it get worse?

Trade restrictions can reinforce poor economic outcomes. As reported to the OECD, Argentina introduced, increased or expanded 585 different export taxes between 2000 and 2012. Hitting its farmers hard, Argentina’s new government recently increased export taxes on agricultural commodities. Export taxes on soybeans, soy oil and soy meal increased from 25 to 33 percent, while the taxes on exporting corn and wheat were raised to 12 percent from around 7 percent.

Export taxes distort decisions about what and how much to produce, affecting the cost to produce and the price of the export. Whether the measure significantly affects the world supply and price of that commodity depends on the global market power of the exporting country. For example, Argentina is the world’s third largest supplier of corn and soybeans. To the extent that Argentina’s exports are deterred by the tax, supply in the domestic market could increase, driving prices for the commodity producer down but also creating an input subsidy for domestic producers that use that commodity. As a result of the distortive effect of export taxes on the price of traded goods, it is unsurprising that trade as a percentage of Argentina’s GDP is significantly lower than countries in its peer group of middle income countries.

Argentina 585 export taxes

So why have them?

It is more common for governments to restrict imports to try to protect domestic producers of goods that compete with imports. For example, restricting imports of bread might favor local bakers who could then sell their products at higher prices without fear of competition from foreign producers. Yet we know the cost of suppressing competition means consumers (companies and individuals) will pay higher prices.

In contrast, export duties are less common than import restrictions and have a different justification. Smaller, resource-limited countries sometimes apply export restrictions to a small number of products to ensure adequate domestic supplies or to lower domestic prices. As a major world exporter of agricultural products, Argentina’s export taxes are a way for the government to raise revenue and address its fiscal gap.

How’s it working?

Argentina requires export registrations and permits, while fully banning the export of certain commodities including scrap iron, steel, copper and aluminum. Export taxes vary but Decree 37/2019 issued in December 2019 sets a general rate at 12 percent, with exceptions. The incoming government has already adjusted the rates, increasing soybeans and soy products to 33 percent while reducing others such as rice from 12 to six percent, dry beans from nine to five percent. Others remained the same. Wheat, corn, sorghum, wine, fruits and vegetables are taxed at 12 percent, while beef and chicken at nine percent.

Heavy trade taxation has distorted and decreased the productivity of Argentina’s economy. Moreover, the duties create incentives for rent-seeking as businesses seek special exemptions or reductions in taxes. Special exemptions prop up businesses that may have otherwise failed, preventing workers and resources from moving to their highest-valued uses in the economy. Such outcomes follow the tenets of Adam Smith’s basic economic treatise, The Wealth of Nations: the result of price and trade intervention “can only be to force the trade of a country into a channel much less advantageous than that in which it would naturally run of its own accord.”

Argentina counter to WTO norms on export taxes

Argentina isn’t exempt from economic laws

Trade, Adam Smith went on to observe, is driven by “a propensity in human nature … to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Certainly, in Argentina this propensity is curtailed today by these restrictions that make it almost impossible for people to exchange goods and services abroad.

Economic laws are universal. Individuals in Argentina have the same creativity and entrepreneurial capacity as do people in other countries. An important way of helping to unleash that capacity would be for Argentina to remove all export and import duties without pitting sectors against one another.

In Argentina, policymakers believe that they can manage the economy better than the forces of market competition. But Argentina has spent more than a third of the last 70 years in recession. Global trade rules explicitly prohibit quantitative restrictions but permit export taxes under limited circumstances. Instead, Argentina uses them liberally and broadly. Eliminating them would enable free trade to spur economic growth.

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Agustin Forzani

Agustin Forzani is an MA student in the George Mason University economics department and MA fellow with GMU’s Mercatus Center. He received a BA in economics from the National University of Rosario in Argentina and a BA in Agribusiness from the National Technological University in Argentina.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

farm

A SHORTAGE OF FARM GUEST WORKERS COULD THREATEN AMERICA’S HARVEST

Harvest season is here

Right now, acres and acres of lettuce sit ready to be picked in California’s Salinas Valley – an area known as the Salad Bowl of the World. But who will harvest it?

The Golden State is an agricultural powerhouse, producing more than 400 commodities, including one-third of all U.S.-grown vegetables and two-thirds of our fruits and nuts. In 2019, California’s agriculture exports totaled $21.02 billion, ranking first among all states in the value of farm exports for the last twenty years. California’s almonds are a favorite of the European Union, its dairy products ship to Mexico, California pistachios travel to China, and the state’s high-quality rice is increasingly popular in Japan.

Spring means harvest season is here – or will be soon – for many crops in California and around the country, from asparagus to cucumbers to tomatoes and more. Thousands of workers are needed to pick these crops. And over the years, those workers have become harder and harder to find – a challenge that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor shortages cause farm losses

The American Farm Bureau Federation says that U.S. agriculture needs 1.5 to 2 million hired workers. These challenging, often seasonal, positions are essential to food production – but few U.S. citizens are willing to fill them. A California Farm Bureau Federation survey found that 56 percent of California farmers have been unable to find all the workers they need during the last five years.

While some farmers are shifting to labor-saving technologies, others can’t afford the expense of mechanization. And many of the high-value fruits and vegetables that California is known for must be harvested by hand to ensure their quality.

Given this chronic labor shortage, immigrants – most from Mexico – play an increasingly crucial role in our food system. Foreign-born workers can legally come to the United States to perform short-term farm labor under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program, often referred to as the H-2A visa program.

56 percent cant find workers needed

Temporary labor through H-2A program

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 established the agriculture-focused H-2A program and a separate H-2B program for skilled workers in industries like healthcare and tech. The H-2A program is the primary way that U.S. farmers can legally hire immigrant labor from countries deemed eligible by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The process requires several steps and fees.

To participate, farmers must first receive a temporary labor certification for H-2A workers from the Department of Labor (DOL). This should be submitted 60 to 75 days before workers are needed. Then, farmers must file a petition to the DHS U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the petition, prospective H-2A workers outside the U.S. apply for a visa through the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and seek admission to the U.S. with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. Port of Entry.

Open positions unable to fill

Rules are in place so that the H-2A program does not take jobs from domestic workers or lower the average wage. Before hiring H-2A workers, farm employers must demonstrate to the DOL that they are unable to recruit U.S. citizens for their open positions. They are also required to pay a state-specific minimum wage that may not be lower than the average wage for crop and livestock workers in their region during the prior year, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate.

Once approved, H-2A visa holders are allowed to work in the U.S. temporarily. The visa can be re-approved annually for up to three years. A worker loses their H-2A status if they leave their job. After a worker has three years of H-2A status, they are required to leave the United States for at least three months before applying to receive a H-2A visa again. The H-2A visa does not apply to a worker’s family members and does not give workers a way to gain permanent legal status. Unlike the H-2B program, there is no cap set on the total number of H-2A visas that can be granted each year.

number farmer workers exceeds visas

Greater need than visas

In 2019, nearly 258,000 immigrant workers were granted H-2A visas, with most working in Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, and North Carolina. Participation has jumped from 48,000 positions certified in 2005. However, the number of farm workers that are needed each year far surpasses the number of H-2A visas that are granted. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that the percentage of farm workers who are not legally authorized to work in the United States grew from 14 percent in 1989 to more than 50 percent in recent years.

While the H-2A program has grown in size, both farmers and farm worker advocates are critical of it. Farmers say it is a complicated, expensive process to navigate. Furthermore, year-round agriculture sectors like dairy farming, pork production or even mushroom farming can’t use the program since it is only available to seasonal industries. Labor groups argue H-2A needs reform to provide more protections to workers.

Agriculture’s workforce challenges recently received some attention on Capitol Hill. In December 2019, the full House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038). Among its many changes, the bill would make H-2A more flexible for employers and establish a new, capped program for year-round workers. It would also provide a pathway to permanent resident status for farm workers and include new enforcement measures. While the House’s passage of H.R. 5038 marks the first time that body has approved immigration legislation since 1986, the bill has not received a vote in the Senate.

The Trump Administration has also shown interest in updating the H-2A program, streamlining the application process on the USDA website. DOL issued a proposed rule in September 2019 that would update how the Adverse Effect Wage Rate is calculated, among other provisions. That rule has not yet been finalized. Additionally, in October 2019 the DOL issued a final rule to modernize the market labor test by allowing farmers to advertise jobs on a central online registry rather than a local print newspaper.

critical industry

COVID exacerbating labor shortage

Travel restrictions and government closures due to COVID-19 are adding to the concerns about America’s shortage of farm workers. The U.S. stopped processing non-emergency visas like H-2A in Mexico on March 18, 2020 out of health concern for U.S. Embassy employees. This immediately led to calls of alarm from agriculture stakeholders who are looking ahead to a busy spring and summer season.

The State Department later said it would continue processing H-2A applications and granted new flexibility so both new or returning workers would not be required to go to a U.S. consulate for an interview according to social distancing protocol. The DOL announced additional, temporary H-2A flexibilities in April 2020 to help prevent a labor shortage. However, governments around the globe continue to enforce travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, potentially keeping workers from the harvest.

Some farmers are reporting that they are unable to get workers on time. In Canada, foreign workers have been delayed by border restrictions and canceled flights. Once they arrive, the Canadian government requires workers to be quarantined for 14 days (with pay) before they can begin work. The United States does not have a similar quarantine requirement but American farmers are concerned that fruit and vegetable harvests will still be impacted. Workers who have arrived are in the fields for longer hours due to the labor shortfall. Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farm worker in Georgia, told Reuters why he is working 12+ hours a day: “if the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

Agriculture is a critical industry

Agriculture has been deemed a critical industry during the pandemic. Americans are seeing firsthand the strengths and vulnerabilities of our complex food supply chain. One paradox is that farmers across the country have been forced to dump millions of gallons of milk and destroy millions of pounds of fresh food while some grocery store shelves go bare. The widespread closure of restaurants, hotels and schools has left farmers with no market for half of their crops due largely to the differences in Americans’ eating habits while quarantined at home.

So far, a lack of labor has not been a major force behind this food dumping. However, the situation could change if the pandemic persists longer into the harvest season or if farm workers begin testing positive for COVID-19. Farmers are also concerned that fewer workers will apply for H-2A visas over fears of catching the virus. Without enough workers, leafy greens, berries, and cucumbers would likely be the first crops to be left fallow, followed by peaches, plums, nectarines, and citrus.

The important role that guest workers play in ensuring America’s food supply during the pandemic underscores the interconnected nature of global agriculture trade. In reality, without H-2A and other immigrant labor, that romaine lettuce in Salinas would never make it to your salad bowl, or to other dinner tables around the world.

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Sarah Hubbart provides communications strategy, content creation, and social media management for TradeVistas. A native of rural Northern California, Sarah has melded communications and policy throughout her career in Washington, D.C., serving in government affairs, issues management, and coalition building roles in the agricultural sector. She is an alum of California State University, Chico and George Washington University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

wildlife

WET MARKETS EXPOSE GLOBAL WILDLIFE TRADE

A Watershed Moment for Preserving Lives – Theirs and Ours

Wildlife trade where exotic animals are sold for parts, food or medicine – even as pets – is multibillion dollar business. One in every five wildlife species is at risk of being ensnared in wildlife trade, driving an estimated 8,775 species to the edge of extinction.

Human consumption of wild animals has long been a public health concern, linked to the origin of outbreaks such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola Virus Disease. Nonetheless, China is reopening wet markets where COVID-19 may have originated, albeit with purportedly improved regulations on hygienic conditions.

On February 24, China announced a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals in China. But China’s Ministry of Finance announced on March 17 it would increase the tax rebate on an array of exported products, including edible snakes and turtles, primate meat, beaver and civet musk and rhino horns.

Wet markets featuring exotic species are not uncommon throughout Asia. Wildlife farms (an oxymoron) also raise animals for traditional medicines. And in an unrelated problem — as uncovered in the recent Netflix hit Tiger King — purveyors of tigers, leopards and other big cats continue to fuel the fantasies of Americans who want selfies with a baby cub. Spoiler alert: at the end of the series, it’s revealed there could be 5,000-10,000 tigers living in captivity in the United States compared with 4,000 in the wild.

Has the strange confluence of Joe Exotic and COVID-19’s potential origins from a bat in a wet market finally brought the world to a watershed moment in wildlife trade?

China Rebates Exports of Wild Exotic Animals

No Trade Without Demand

Attempts to prevent or limit wildlife trade often focus on the supply side. But trade is driven by consumer demand. It’s the demand for wild animals and plants that signals there’s money to be made both illegally and legally.

Wildlife harvested for food encompasses a broad range of practices, from illegally importing ultra-rare exotic animal meat such as African gorillas and elephants, to the sustainable and legal Australian kangaroo meat trade. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, wild meat is often the only available source of animal protein in poverty-stricken areas, where it’s unlikely to be internationally traded.

However, there is evidence that urbanization is driving increased demand in commercial trade of wild meat because of the relatively higher prices paid by urban dwellers. Increasing affluence (particularly in Southeast Asia) has increased demand for wildlife products, which have taken on luxury status. For example, in some Asian countries, consuming certain species is believed to help the eater absorb the animal’s strength and resilience. Nonetheless, consuming wild animals carries significant danger of transmitting zoonotic diseases that can occur through any contact with the animal or meat, via the hunters, middle market distributors, sellers in the market or consumers.

Many wild animals are hunted for the purported medicinal properties of their organs, bones and skin. The endangered pangolin is believed to be the most-trafficked animal in the world. Their scales are ground into various medicines to treat anything from malarial fever and deafness to “demon-possession” in women. Despite the illegality of killing them, huge quantities are still seized by customs officials while being smuggled from their native habitats in India and Myanmar. African wildlife, including crocodiles, elephants and rhinos have long been poached for use in traditional medicine, exported mostly illegally, though some hunting for trade is managed and legal.

Endangered and non-endangered wild animals are also traded and transported live to be sold as exotic pets. According to U.S. pet ownership statistics from 2017-2018, over 18 million U.S. households owned some form of exotic or specialty pet, totaling just shy of 90 million individual animals. This number includes hundreds of species of fish, wild birds, reptiles and mammals like macaws, iguanas and monkeys.

Shifting Trade Routes for US CITES imports

Explanation of Visual Tool and Data

Regulating Legal Wildlife Trade

When picturing international trade in wildlife it’s easy to jump to images from the news of monkeys being smuggled in underwear or elephant poaching in Tanzania. However, a huge amount of wildlife trade occurs legally for breeding, biomedical research, exhibitions, conservation and even law enforcement and forensic work.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement ratified in 1975 to which 183 countries are now a party. It was negotiated to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. More than 37,000 species are categorized by the degree of protection they need. Trade in species threatened by extinction is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Trade must be controlled for species where their utilization is incompatible with their survival. A third category includes species that are protected in at least one country that has asked other CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade. All forms of trade in animals covered by the agreement must be authorized through export quota and licensing systems.

According to CITES data, over a million legal transactions involving live animals or their by-products such as fur, skins and dried herbs occur each year, and this does not include the millions of transactions involving species not on the CITES protected list. The CITES Trade Database may represent the largest data collection currently available on the sustainable use of wildlife. Each “record” in the database provides details of one permitted shipment (import, export or re-export) of live or dead animals and plants and their parts and derivatives. Below is an example of data extracted from the database on the number of “big cats” covered in the panthera genus that were traded live in a given year.

Number of Big Cats Traded Live Per Year

Participation in CITES aids governments in regulating and monitoring legal trade in animals, supports conservation efforts by making species easier to track, and arguably provides communities with an incentive to keep native populations healthy and thriving, for the subsistence of local communities and as a resource to cultivate for their livelihoods. For example, CITES has supported the growth of community-managed vicuña populations in Bolivia and Peru, which are shorn for valuable fiber.

However, despite the best efforts of agreements such as CITES, the legal trade in animals is still a grey area. Ethical concerns exist over whether there is any acceptable way to transport live animals, and introducing non-native species to new habitats can sometimes wreak unexpected ecological and economic havoc, even with good intentions. The United States imported over 800,000 plants and live animals covered by CITES in 2018, including wolves from Sudan, bears from Canada, and flying foxes from Indonesia.

Illegal Wildlife Trade On Par with Illegal Drugs and Weapons

Illegal international trade in wild animals is worth billions, comparable in size and scope to the illegal drug and weapons trades, making it one of the largest black markets in the world.

Civil conflict and wildlife trafficking often go hand in hand. In countries mired in conflict and suffering from weak governance, criminal organizations and militia groups are reaping huge sums of money from wildlife trafficking with terrible knock-on effects for society along with the animal population. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, armed groups sustain conflict from the money made from poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. Youth are being torn from their families, conscripted into poaching, while the community suffers violence and economic setbacks.

A Pivotal Moment in Wildlife Trade

What more can be done to protect wildlife? One solution is to reduce consumer demand. China has increased public health and safety warnings about the consumption of wild animals and has conducted raids and arrests for those found catching or selling wild animals. The U.S. Agency for International Development created targeted campaigns using celebrities to try and reduce ivory demand. An organization called Change Wildlife Consumers is attempting to use behavioral science to influence consumer behavior.

With renewed scrutiny on wildlife trade due to its impacts on human health and the health of native species and habitats, the stage may be set for governments to impose stricter prohibitions on wildlife trade. But if demand persists, wildlife markets and similar activities may be driven underground, making it riskier but more lucrative for unscrupulous traffickers to deal in wildlife trade.

Joe Exotic landed in jail for other crimes. Meanwhile, wet markets and trade in wild animals remains both a threat to animal survival as well as to the health of humans and our economies on a global scale.

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Alice Calder received her MA in Applied Economics at GMU. Originally from the UK, where she received her BA in Philosophy and Political Economy from the University of Exeter, living and working internationally sparked her interest in trade issues as well as the intersection of economics and culture.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

food sector

Food Sector Faces Multipronged Consequences of COVID-19 Outbreak

Brick and mortar, as well as online food chains, are facing the wrath of the current COVID-19 outbreak. The worldwide supply chain includes distribution, packaging, as well as sourcing of raw materials. Lockdowns are disrupting the transportation of packaged foods, prepared foods, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Before the pandemic, the major growth drivers were growing consumption of ready-to-eat convenience foods among on-the-go consumers.

Shifting lifestyle patterns, rising per capita income, and a growing population have been the prominent growth-enhancing factors associated with the food sector prior to the outbreak. However, shutdowns of restaurants and quick service facilities due to lockdowns have hindered the growth of the food & beverage industry to a large extent.

Online Food Orders Surge as Offline Food Chains Struggle to Cope with COVID-19

In view of the dual nature of the food industry, the impact of COVID-19 is multifaceted on online and offline food chains. The offline food chain comprises of cafes and restaurants that have been shut down across the globe. However, online food deliveries remain operational in most of the regions. The packaged food industry, in particular, is witnessing prolific demand for milk products and shelf-stable foods. As consumers hurry to fill their pantries, the demand is projected to surge even further. Almost every region of the world has been affected by the coronavirus crisis, namely, Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, and the rest of the world. An example of how supply chains were gravely affected is derived from Coca Cola Co.

The carbonated beverage giant, sources raw material from China where the outbreak surfaced in early December of 2019. During the initial days of the pandemic, the company faced a great deal of difficulty in managing the frontend of its supply chain. The production, supply, and export of raw materials from China were delayed due to which the company now solely relies on its suppliers in the US for sourcing sucralose. The major companies in the food & beverages industry affected by coronavirus outbreak include Subway Restaurants Inc., Starbucks Corp., PepsiCo Inc., Papa John’s International Inc., McDonald’s Corp., KFC Corp., International Dairy Queen Inc., Dunkin’ Donuts LLC, Domino’s Pizza, Inc., and Burger King Corp. For instance, Starbucks had to shut down about 2,000 outlets in mainland China after the pandemic began to spread like wildfire.

Livelihoods and Lives at Risk from COVID-19 Pandemic

The looming food crisis amid trade disruptions, quarantines, and border closures continues to endanger both livelihoods and lives worldwide. The huge imbalance between supply and demand resulted from economic shock in the midst of the widespread shutdown of businesses. The uncertainty surrounding the eventual retreat of the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the crisis. Fast and effective measures are required to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the vulnerable food supply chain.

Nutritious and diverse food sources are in short supply in the wake of the global health crisis. Furthermore, greater food insecurity is prevalent in regions hit hard by COVID-19 such as Spain, Italy, and the US. However, there is still the need for anyone to panic about the food crisis as the world has adequate stock of it. The only problem is making it accessible to every section of the society amid strict lockdown.

What Has the World Learned from History?

The 2007-2008 food crisis offered the world some important lessons which can be utilized to avoid letting a health crisis turn into an indispensable food crisis. Policymakers worldwide are intent on not repeating their mistakes of the past. As the measures tighten around the pandemic, it will be even more challenging to prevent the downfall of the global food system. Logistics bottlenecks are a major challenge facing the globe at present. The global food industry is certainly strained in terms of transport and accessibility.

So far food supply has been sufficient thereby disruptions have been minimal. However, the production of high-value commodities such as vegetables and fruits has declined. Hence, governments, especially in India, aim to restart the agriculture activities in parts during the harvest season.

What Does the Immediate Future Hold for Food Sector?

The food supply chain disruption is expected to continue through at least May 2020 as new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Movement restrictions will continue for at least two more months in various parts of world, which is why minimizing bottlenecks will remain crucial for major manufacturers in the food industry. Agricultural production, on the other hand, will be affected by a shortage of veterinary medicines, fertilizers, and other inputs. Moreover, demand for seafood products and fresh produce will continue to decline in view of less grocery shopping and closure of restaurants. In particular, aquaculture and agriculture sectors are among the most adversely affected by the pandemic. Canned seafood and other frozen food products will be on the other hand in demand. The suspension of school meals in emerging nations in India is another area facing the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak.

One thing is certain: the poorest sections of the society including the migrant workers will be the worst affected by the pandemic. In India, migrant workers are terrified of dying from hunger even before the pandemic can strike. Feeding millions of poor families is a daunting task being faced by the government of India. Individuals continue to contribute their part to help the vulnerable ones. However, feeding them every day requires uninterrupted production and supply of essential food items. The food sector in developing nations will thus certainly face greater strain over the entire system in the foreseeable future.

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Nandini is a senior research consultant working with Future Market Insights (FMI), a global market research and consulting firm. She has been serving clients across Food & Beverages, Pharma, and Chemical domains. Currently leading FMI’s Food & Beverages division, Nandini handles research projects in various sub-sectors, viz. Food Ingredients, Food Innovation, and Beverages. The insights presented in this article are based on FMI’s research findings on Impact of COVID-19 on Food Sector Industry of Future Market Insights

pistachios

PISTACHIOS: THE QUIRKS OF AGRICULTURAL TRADE IN A NUTSHELL

Disappearing Red Pistachios

If you’re an American over a certain age, you might recall the experience of staining your fingers while prying open red pistachios. They were a somewhat exotic treat, put out on occasion in a special bowl. That might seem strange to younger Americans who are only familiar with the natural tan pistachios that are ubiquitous as a post-workout food and snack.

The different associations are the result of a dramatic shift in where pistachios were produced and shipped after 1979 when the United States imposed sanctions against Iran in response to the Iran Hostage Crisis involving the taking of more than 50 American diplomats.

Mr. Whitehouse Leaves Washington

Pistachios are a biblical fruit, renowned as a court favorite of the Persian Queen of Sheba, a frequent traveler on the Silk Road and Mediterranean maritime routes. Iran has cultivated them for thousands of years, though large scale commercial production in Iran began just over one hundred years ago. American production is a much more recent phenomenon.

In 1929, American botanist William Whitehouse explored Persia on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scooping up pistachio samples from farms located in modern day Iran. He returned in 1930 and planted test plots. When the trees matured a decade later, only one proved fruitful – Whitehouse named it Kerman after a city in Iran’s Rafsanjan central plateau. Pistachio trees can live hundreds of years and take their time to reach peak production – around twenty years.

Ironically, the U.S. pistachio industry – born from a single Iranian seed – matured in the 1970s precisely at the moment Iran’s trade with the United States, including of pistachios in dyed-red shells, came to a crashing halt.

The tale of U.S.-Iran pistachio trade has four plotlines that dramatize the broader quirks of global agricultural trade.

Plotline 1:

Extreme Quantitative Restrictions – A Trade Embargo

For most of history, Iran has been the world’s biggest source of pistachios. They are Iran’s most significant agricultural export by volume and value. Iran was the biggest supplier to the United States, but damaged relations following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 changed that. U.S. sanctions imposed since that time have a complex and layered history but have almost always involved a complete embargo on Iranian exports to the United States.

Following the lifting of the initial embargo in 1981, Iran’s food exports to the United States rebounded somewhat before the embargo was reintroduced in 1987. In an easing of sanctions in 2000, very modest amounts of foods from Iran were imported through Treasury Department-issued licenses. By 2010, imports of foods from Iran were again fully prohibited. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal would have enabled Iran to export pistachios and other agricultural products and lifted restrictions on financing, which Iran hoped would inject much needed capital investment in the agricultural sector. U.S. withdrawal of the Nuclear Deal in May 2018 saw a return to strict U.S. sanctions on imports from Iran.

Milestones in US-Iran competition in global pistachio trade

Plot Line 2:

Classic Farm Subsidies

When sanctions were first imposed in 1979, U.S. pistachio production was 7,700 metric tons, up quite substantially from the first U.S. commercial crop in 1976 of just 680 metric tons. In comparison, Iran had averaged 19,504 metric tons per year in the decade leading up to sanctions, but peaked in 1978 at nearly 59,874 metric tons. At the time, Iran accounted for nearly 100 percent of U.S. imported pistachio nuts. After falling off during the embargo, Iran renewed exports when the embargo was lifted in the early 1980s.

In March 1986, the Commerce Department found in favor of a U.S. industry petition that complained the Iranian government was subsidizing pistachio production. Iran (as many developing countries do) was providing supports to its agricultural producers by subsidizing the cost of key inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals, seeds, water and energy and by guaranteeing a minimum price for their output. The investigation resulted in a 99.5 percent countervailing duty on in-shell pistachios and a 318 percent duty on roasted pistachios.

Because Iran was not a signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and is not a WTO member (the United States has repeatedly blocked its application for accession), no injury determination was required.

US tariffs on pistachios

Plot Line 3:

“Less Than Fair Value”

In a parallel 1986 investigation, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) found that the volume of raw in-shell pistachios imported from Iran had increased significantly after the embargo was lifted in 1981. U.S. producers had secured 93.2 percent of the U.S. market in 1980, which was about 12.5 million pounds. By 1985, the overall size of the U.S. market had swelled to 61 million pounds, and Iran’s share had grown to 42.3 percent, accounting for almost 100 percent of all imports.

At the same time, the unit value of imports from Iran (import price) fell by around half. The USITC determined that raw in-shell pistachios imported from Iran were being sold at “less than fair market value” (or, being “dumped”) in the U.S. market, causing material injury to the U.S. industry. The Commerce Department calculated an offset in the form of a 241 percent antidumping duty, which would be applied in additional to the 99.5 percent countervailing duty.

In years of embargo, the duties were irrelevant and thus only two reviews have since been conducted to determine whether the duties should remain in place. In both 2005 and more recently in 2017, the USITC determined they should.

Plot Line 4:

Developed v. Developing Country Producers

According to the Iran Pistachio Association (IPA), Iran has around 150,000 farmers, but more than 70 percent of the production is small-scale on orchards of 2 hectares or less. In a “good” year, annual pistachio production capacity reaches 280,000 metric tons in Iran, but harvesting is inefficient. Pistachios are picked by hand from fallen clusters, their hulls removed by hand, and the nuts graded manually. Inadequate water management undercuts Iranian production, but when Iran’s yield is strong, the country’s pistachio exporters hold a price and geographic advantage. And IPA says they are competitive globally based on strong demand for the wide variety of Iranian pistachio cultivars with different flavor profiles and a higher kernel to in-shell ratio.

In contrast, the United States has some 950 growers, mainly in California, whose mechanized production is highly efficient, yielding a whopping 487,500 metric tons over the 2018-19 season (though output is cyclical and weather-dependent so yields may be down over 30 percent this year). Achievements in increased outputs made during a period when the U.S. market was closed to Iran, its only major competitor, enabled the U.S. industry to reach a position where it could both serve the domestic market and challenge Iran for market share all over the world. Iran has barely exported any pistachios to the United States since 1986 but it remains a contender in key third markets.

US leads pistachio production

Combined, the United States and Iran account for more than 70 percent of global exports of pistachios. Iran tends to hold the top spot in the Middle East, India, and Eastern Europe and holds an edge in developing country markets. The key battlegrounds in the U.S.-Iran pistachio wars are Western Europe and China where demand is strong and growing.

American pistachio growers fretted when the Trump administration raised tariffs on products from China. When China retaliated, raising the tariff on U.S. pistachios from five to as high as 55 percent, that created an opportunity for China to substitute Iranian pistachios. However, Iran ultimately suffered a bad crop year and it’s not clear whether China collected the tariffs, so sales of U.S. pistachios in China actually increased.

Not a Happy or Tragic Ending

The U.S. pistachio industry was concerned about the potential for renewed competition from Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal that eased sanctions. Their fears were allayed when the USITC voted to maintain the 1986 legacy of prohibitive tariffs. No matter, the Trump administration has strengthened sanctions and the embargo remains.

In the end, global demand for pistachios is higher than production, leaving room for both American and Iranian producers to find a market for all they can grow.

In an NPR interview four years ago, Brian Blackwell, a grower from Tulare County, CA wasn’t concerned about the reentry of Iranian pistachios in the U.S. market and explained the nature of global commodity markets this way: “This is a global marketplace nowadays. So, if Iran brought a million pounds of pistachios into the United States, that just means there’s a million pounds that didn’t get sold in China or Europe. U.S. pistachios could fill that market.”

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

growers edge

Growers Edge & CropX Partnership Addresses Farming Challenges

Savings for water, fertilizer, energy, and labor costs are just some of the many added benefits farmers can anticipate following the announcement of an agriculture-focused partnership between Growers Edge Financial, Inc. and CropX. The strategic partnership addresses farming challenges head-on and solves complex issues through advanced technology solutions, including soil-sensing technology designed to eliminate crop-input costs through accurate, reliable data.

“The financial instruments available today do not meet the needs of farmers who want to embrace new ways to improve the profitability and sustainability of their operations,” said Joe Young, president and chief operating officer, Growers Edge. “Working with strategic partners like CropX, we are providing the incentive a farmer needs to confidently adopt new technologies that can drive their long-term sustainability and business success despite rising environmental and business challenges.”

Through a careful process utilizing CropX cloud-based technology and integrated in-field sensors, soil data and management is optimized and implemented based on analyzed data determining the precise amount of water specific to plant needs, ultimately boosting crop yields while maximizing opportunities in cost-savings and waste reduction.

“Giving farmers direct access to all of the intelligence below the ground empowers them to sustainably cultivate more profitable and productive farms by accurately predicting and managing crop needs. However, many farmers are hesitant to invest in soil sensing technologies after being burned by complex, expensive – and often even ineffective – technologies in the past,” said John Vikupitz, president, CropX. “Our partnership with Growers Edge will help farms of all sizes and budgets confidently embrace in-soil data technologies to modernize farm management.”

Beginning in 2020, the two companies will host a pilot program in which farmers can participate in that includes a Growers Edge money-back guarantee and irrigation practice prescription.

USMCA

A Vote on USMCA is a Vote for Predictability

For all their legal nuance, trade agreements are written to make commerce more predictable. The rules are meant to increase business confidence, boost investment and spur job creation. It’s time for Congress to show bipartisan support for a more predictable North American market, and pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

USMCA is a much-needed upgrade of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a text that was largely copied over from the US-Canada bilateral trade agreement signed in 1988. To say that NAFTA is outdated is an understatement. Canada and Mexico have concluded trade deals with other countries that do things NAFTA could have never anticipated 25 years ago. USMCA is needed just to keep up.

Three chapters of USMCA deserve far more attention than they’ve received.

First, the chapter on health and safety standards is a must for US agriculture. The biggest threat to our ranchers and farmers is a lack of science-based import regimes abroad, not tariffs.

Tariffs are a tax on trade, whereas health and safety standards, applied in a non-scientific or in a discriminatory way, can act as a ban trade. US agricultural exporters have long demanded more science-based approaches to what are called sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and USMCA delivers on this. USMCA also puts forward a number of consultative mechanisms that will help prevent certain market access problems from arising in the first place.

US agriculture needs Chapter 9 of the USMCA.

Second, the chapter on technical barriers to trade is essential for US manufacturers. It covers the regulatory measures that impact over 90 percent of goods exports from the United States. This is fertile ground for protectionism. Governments can easily use regulatory measures, or ways of assessing conformity with them, that shield domestic producers from import competition. In fact, they can completely shut down trade with a few strokes of the legislative pen.

In USMCA, American manufacturers have more of a voice in the regulatory process in Canada and Mexico concerning their exports. Importantly, USMCA also calls on the three countries to recognize that, in setting technical specifications, performance, and not the provenance of the regulation, is what should matter. This is a longstanding US demand, and USMCA represents a tangible win for US exporters in this regard.

American manufacturing needs Chapter 10 of USMCA.

Third, the chapter on intellectual property is upgraded to reflect the needs of a building a creative economy. The list of international agreements that inform USMCA is striking; many didn’t exist in 1994, never mind in 1988. Copyright protections are modernized, as are those for biologics, a type of drug that could not have been imagined when NAFTA was negotiated. Whereas patents, alone, could help stimulate investment in small molecule drugs, they aren’t enough for the living systems that define biologics. USMCA brings Canada and Mexico closer to the US standard, and in this regard increases protection of American IP abroad.

Other IP provisions will assist a variety of America’s creative industries, from film to fashion to iPhones. These modernized rules, along with consultative mechanisms to ensure a level playing field, will provide the kind of protections that inventors need to bring their ideas to market. This is a win.

America’s creative industries need Chapter 20 of USMCA.

Still, there are some who, while recognizing the benefits of USMCA, worry that the deal cannot effectively enforce labor and environmental standards. They shouldn’t be. The provisions are as good as anything in the EU-Mexico trade agreement, for example, and Europe is renowned for having high expectations on both fronts, both domestically and internationally.

Polls show that, regardless of party, American voters are more supportive of free trade now than ever before. Democrats, Independents and Republicans converge around 80 percent in favor. Polls also show that USMCA has bipartisan backing.

The United States is part of a North American market that thrives on predictability. It’s time for Congress to unite behind USMCA and deliver predictability.

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Marc L. Busch is the Karl F. Landegger Professor of International Business Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.