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TRADE IN COUNTERFEIT MEDICAL AND PROTECTIVE HEALTH GOODS SPIKING DURING PANDEMIC

COUNTERFEIT

TRADE IN COUNTERFEIT MEDICAL AND PROTECTIVE HEALTH GOODS SPIKING DURING PANDEMIC

Making matters worse

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter lives around the world, predators have seen opportunities to exploit the global health crisis by marketing and shipping counterfeit medical equipment, devices, and pharmaceuticals. In the few months since the beginning of the pandemic, illicit trade in counterfeit medical goods is both widespread and global in nature.

Authorities in the UAE shut down two factories, finding 40,000 fake sanitizers that were actually body sprays. In Cambodia, authorities seized three tons of fake sanitizer and nearly 17,000 gallons of fake alcohol. Australia’s Border Force intercepted shipments of counterfeit and otherwise faulty personal protective equipment.

Playing whack-a-mole with counterfeit goods

EUROPOL has cautioned that fake blood-screening tests, sanitizers, and pharmaceutical products are increasing in volume in the EU as criminals take advantage of shortages of genuine medical products. EUROPOL is monitoring the trade in counterfeit and substandard products by “listening” to social media platforms, following conversations that mention fake products. The agency reports many new online platforms have cropped up in response to coronavirus to profit illegally from illicit trade in fake medical goods.

Enforcement activity has also ramped up in the United States in response to the significant increase in criminals attempting to capitalize on the pandemic. In mid-April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Operation Stolen Promise, a joint effort by experts in global trade, financial fraud and cyber investigations to combat smuggling of counterfeit safety equipment and test kits. The operation quickly shut down over 11,000 COVID-19 domain names for illicit websites. After seizing test kits at an Indianapolis express consignment facility, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it is “targeting imports and exports — mainly in the international mail and express consignment cargo environments — that may contain counterfeit or illicit goods”.

More data, better enforcement?

In early May, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations announced an unprecedented partnership with private sector companies including Amazon and Alibaba to combat price gougers and scammers online. But will the effort be sufficient? The pandemic has exposed how vulnerable consumers are and how difficult the challenges are for law enforcement, prompting new discussion of potential changes to data collection practices that will better safeguard consumers while aiding law enforcement. Policymakers are also considering ways to shift more burden to the private sector engaged in online sales and trade.

The Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Online Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate on May 13. The sponsors noted that with the pandemic causing Americans to stay home, online commercial activity has increased, but that products sold online are not sufficiently transparent. The COOL Online Act would require that buyers of products sold online be told the country where the product was manufactured and where the seller is located.

CBP is currently conducting the 321 E-Commerce Data Pilot which requires private sector participants in the pilot program to transmit a significant amount of data to CBP regarding products shipped to the United States. What is yet unclear is whether companies in the supply chain and e-commerce ecosystems will be required to verify that the information submitted to CBP is accurate and whether they will be required to take the step of rejecting products or packages before facilitating shipment to the United States.

Such a requirement obligates private sector entities to take some measure to screen and prevent the export of non-compliant or suspect goods before they leave the country of export. Absent such an obligation, most, if not all, of the burden will remain on CBP – and its counterparts around the world – to protect public safety.

Countering the counterfeiters

Medical communities around the world are still grappling with a virus that has no known cure while law enforcement agencies work to combat the growing volume of counterfeit and substandard medical equipment and pharmaceutical goods marketed by criminals. Meanwhile, international crime watchdog INTERPOL has ominously issued a warning that it expects global markets to be flooded with fake pharmaceuticals as soon as a vaccine does become available.

The policy landscape continues to shift in various ways in the wake of this health crisis. Governments are actively engaging with the private sector regarding potential changes to the collection and sharing of data — and, how both should act on that data — to more effectively prevent counterfeit and illicit goods from even leaving the country of origin in the first place.

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Tim Trainer

Tim Trainer was an attorney-advisor at the U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. He is a past president of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition. Tim is now the principal at Global Intellectual Property Strategy Center, P.C., and Galaxy Systems, Inc.

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

Post-COVID Logistics: Retooling for the Future

The impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt across global economies and businesses, but for the supply chain and logistics industry, challenges go beyond the present and threaten the future of operations and business continuity. These challenges redefine what prediction could look like for the logistics industry and what considerations should be taken to keep the supply chain moving.

Global Trade had the opportunity to speak with business owner and author of “The GOP’s Lost Decade: An Inside View of Why Washington Doesn’t Work,” Jim Renacci on what changes the industry can anticipate as the current health crisis continues to change the pace for global business.

What planning measures will logistics players need to consider in a post-COVID environment?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way manufacturers/logistic players will need to review their supply chain management post-COVID-19 and access their supply chain vulnerabilities. The crisis has demonstrated that reliance on sourcing from two geographic areas could pose a risk.

During the crisis, while supplies became unavailable, many companies were forced to start looking for new supply chains as many of their overseas suppliers had to limit or reduce shipments significantly. Post-COVID planning will include asking current suppliers to take on more and different product lines. It is already happening with many current business relationships. Also, the reliability of the supply chain…. over cost…. will be more of a priority.

In what ways have supply chain players supported their customers and consumers during the crisis?

Manufacturers/supply chain players are supporting their customers by shifting and increasing supply chain needs where possible. In many instances, secondary suppliers have started adding product lines where possible. With any crisis, opportunities will be there for the business that can move quickly and adapt to change.

How will the manufacturing site selection process shift in a post-COVID world? 

Manufacturing site selection processes in a post-COVID world should include seeking locations within the US and other countries that have access to highly trained engineers, top tier R&D, access to advanced manufacturing technologies as well as private and public institutions and universities. Site selection should also include countries that offer a competitive investment package as more and more countries post-COVID will be looking to entice companies to locate or relocate inside their jurisdictions.

In what ways can logistics players use the disruption from COVID-19 to benefit their operations in the future?

Current disruption due to COVID-19 will allow companies to reassess their vulnerabilities but also their strengths. With these disruptions, companies can retool for the future. They can adjust for their weaknesses and benefit from their strengths.

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Jim Renacci is the author of The GOP’s Lost Decade: An Inside View of Why Washington Doesn’t Work. He is also an experienced business owner who created more than 1,500 jobs and employed over 3,000 people across the Buckeye State before running for Congress in 2010. Jim represented Ohio’s 16th District in the House of Representatives for four terms. He is also the chairman of Ohio’s Future Foundation, a policy and action-oriented organization whose goal is to move the state forward.

coronavirus

How the Coronavirus Pandemic has Diversified UK Business

As the Coronavirus pandemic has altered our ways of living and working – potentially for good – it has sent shockwaves through areas of UK business previously thought untouchable.

The thriving food and hospitality sector has steadily grown over recent years but faces an uncertain future as social distancing becomes a new norm of everyday life.

Of course, some industries have enjoyed something of a boon during the lockdown as their products, services, and expertise have come to the fore, or been adapted to suit the needs of the population.

How have businesses altered their offering?

Many eateries have kept afloat by switching their sit-down service to take-out or delivery, while robotic delivery of food and drink in Milton Keynes could offer a glimpse into the future of the industry, long after Covid-19’s grip on our daily lives has subsided.

The airline industry has been similarly decimated as planes have been grounded but swapping passengers for cargo has allowed some to maintain business.

Land-based delivery services have thrived, especially those connected to online shopping, like our trips to the high street or retail centers have been curtailed by the lockdown.

This has not come without the need for a change to regular services, however, with health and safety now more paramount, businesses have needed to be agile in swiftly adapting sanitary and sterile methods of delivery especially when dealing with at-risk customers.

Can businesses help in the fight against Coronavirus?

Some of the biggest swings in business have seen entities completely change their line of work in a bid to help fight the virus.

Producing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns, and gloves, has become a priority for many textile companies.

In the bid to build more hospital equipment, Formula 1 teams used their engineering might take on the task. World champion outfit Mercedes produced a ventilator which was used in a trial by the NHS and made the plans freely available for other manufacturers to build their own versions.

As the need for clear public communication has risen, printing business instant print was marked as NHS supply chain critical, producing an adapted product range including posters, signage, floor stickers and more to be used in a host of healthcare settings.

Will UK businesses recover after Coronavirus?

This is a tricky question to answer, as to how our daily lives will look once the pandemic subsides remains a grey area.

As scientific exploration into the virus continues, the threat of a ‘second wave’ of illnesses sweeping the world is set to make the resumption of our previous ways of life something that is implemented slowly, if indeed some things we used to take for granted ever do return to our daily routines.

Work settings may change, infrastructure will likely have to be adapted to suit a more socially distant population. How crowds gathering in shops, restaurants, bars, concerts, sporting events and more will be managed is almost impossible to predict as simply containing the virus still remains the highest priority.

As some countries begin to tentatively emerge from lockdown and try to get to grips with a ‘new normal’, the world will look to the likes of Australia and New Zealand for cues, while China has also looked to restore many of the social liberties that were taken away when the virus began to spread in its Hubei province.

If your business has been impacted by the Coronavirus, perhaps some of the examples above can help guide you through the rocky times or inspire a change of direction that may bring greater success once the pandemic passes.

paradigm shift

Will COVID-19 Spark a Paradigm Shift for Businesses?

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the global economy and reshaping businesses in lasting ways. According to our own research, the U.S. economy is expected to see a sharp recession for the first half of 2020, likely to be followed by a U-shaped recovery. What’s more, the number of business bankruptcies is expected to increase by 25% and unemployment is likely to surpass 20% in the next few months.

As governments, leaders and industries around the globe grapple with the effects of the pandemic, one thing is certain: the fragility of businesses has been exposed. The question we are faced with now is what the aftermath will look like. Will the consequences of this crisis permanently mark the business world? Will we see a paradigm shift in the way businesses transform their strategies and priorities?

A shift in business values

As we shift into a post-pandemic world, will the traditional drivers of a capitalist society (productivity, profit and growth) be re-evaluated by businesses? I believe the answer could be yes. We’re already seeing younger generations less attracted to capitalist values, according to a study published last year. If they want to attract and retain the next generation of top talent, companies must get more in tune with societal movements to attract younger generations and strengthen the meaning in their actions with a clear vision that has a reinforced long-term impact.

I also believe that this catastrophic event will force a greater partnership on a national level between governments, businesses and individuals. We’ve already seen this group come together to encourage solidarity and altruism during this time. Across the U.S., businesses are repurposing their products and services to help fight the pandemic and individuals are stepping into action to shop for their neighbors and set up support systems all while celebrating those on the frontlines of healthcare and emergency services each night. Even state governments are working together to allocate resources across state lines to combat the spread of the virus. This movement toward unity is what the country needs to emerge stronger post-pandemic.

Closely aligning business with altruism

It is possible that this very same concept of solidarity becomes a strong value in the business world too. Businesses who once competed against each other are coming together. We see this with the explosion of innovation at pharmaceutical companies who are joining forces to find a vaccine while large-scale manufacturers and small businesses have stopped their usual production in order to manufacture ventilators, hand sanitizer and medical masks.

Even our credit insurance industry is taking action. In Canada, credit insurers are partnering with their Export Credit Agency to offer government-backed insurance plans. In France, its main actors have recently mobilized with the government to reactivate support systems (known as CAP) with a global budget of 12 billion euros in order to help companies survive the impact of the economic deadlock. In Germany, credit insurers and the government have collaborated to guarantee the payment of compensation to businesses up to 30 billion euros. In other countries like the U.S and U.K, industry leaders are moving to create similar partnerships to better support their countries’ economies.

As companies begin to think through what a post-pandemic world looks like, a closer and more harmonious relationship between different businesses could be what’s needed. Instead of being passive on subjects that require a collective approach, businesses need to join together to adopt like-minded social, environmental and governance standards.

History has taught us that massive events can trigger important changes thereafter. For COVID-19, this could be synonymous with business transformation as companies are forced to rethink and realign their priorities. To prepare for the aftermath, companies must adapt, anticipate changes and accelerate their transformation to link work with a greater purpose. While a “before” and “after” are certain for the pandemic, the future of business and the extent of this paradigm shift remains to be determined. It’s not enough to just survive this unprecedented crisis but rather companies must emerge more innovative and united.

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Virginie Fauvel is the Chief Transformation Officer and Board Member for the Americas Region at Euler Hermes 

personal protective equipment

Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control Market to Hit USD 17.1 Billion by 2026

The global Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control Market should increase from USD 10 billion in 2019 to USD 17.1 billion in 2026.

The massive outbreak of COVID-19 has produced a significant rise in the revenue scale of global personal protective equipment for infection control market. Global Market Insights, Inc., predicts the personal protective equipment for infection control industry to garner appreciable gains over 2020-2026 while depicting a CAGR of -19.3 percent through 2026, perhaps due to the expanding number of surgical procedures and rising awareness about personal safety for infectious diseases.

The lucrative growth map of personal protective equipment for infection control market is evident from the surging importance of safety at vivid workplaces lined with stringent regulatory reforms pertaining to the safety standards. Numerous regulatory authorities have addressed safety standards during operations in manufacturing industries and various service organizations like hospitals and research laboratories.

Moreover, standard operating protocol developed for security and safety against infections at the workplace would favor the business growth over the due course of time. Although the PPE for infection control is unveiling new trends across the globe, the complexity and dearth of time in the production of these might hamper the industry growth to some extent.

Categorized into products, types, and end-use industries, the personal protective equipment for infection control market across the hand and arm product segment is poised to perform exceptionally well in the ensuing years. For the record, hand and arm personal protective equipment market acquired a business share of $4.2 million in 2019. The momentous growth of this segment can aptly be ascribed to the increased risk of infection worldwide. Besides, skin disorder, given the direct contact to toxic pathogens and radioactive materials would propel the industry growth in the years ahead.

Considering the type bifurcation, the disposable PPE market held a considerable revenue share of 74 percent in 2019 and is touted to witness appreciable growth during the mentioned timeframe owing to its ability to reduce risk of infection as it is disposed of after use.

Elaborating further, personal protective equipment for infection control market from the research and diagnostic laboratories segment is set to accrue phenomenal proceeds in 2020, fundamentally due to the growing R&D activities in order to bring forth advanced solutions for diagnosis and treatment. In addition to this, elevating COVID-19 cases worldwide has enunciated the massive demand for PPE in diagnostic laboratories for effective security and functioning.

Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market report provides a comprehensive landscape of the industry, accurate market estimates and forecast split by product, application, technology, region and end-use. All quantitative information is covered on a regional as well as country basis. The report provides valuable strategic insights on the Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market, analyzing in detail industry impact forces including growth drivers, pitfalls, and regulation evolution. The report also includes a detailed outlook on the Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market competitive environment, diving into the industry position of each major company along with the strategic landscape.

Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market report is an all-inclusive document, compiled and designed to provide best-in-class research, insightful analysis and accurate quantitative data. The coverage of this research is the most extensive when compared to other similar studies available on Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market. The industry ecosystem information presented in this report is next-to-none and aims to address all stakeholders of the industry, irrespective of their size and business function. Details of segmentation and cross reporting structure, wherever feasible, makes this Personal Protective Equipment for Infection Control market research one of its kind to offer the most in-depth, readily available data.

Speaking of the regional demographics, the United States is poised to emerge as one of the most remunerative growth regions for industry given the current coronavirus outbreak. It has been reported that the country captured an overall business share of more than 90 percent of the North America PPR for infection control market in 2019.

This growth is ascribed to the expanding development activities paired with rising healthcare spending. It is imperative to mention that, the ongoing disease spread has urged myriad companies to undertake development activities with an aim to offer effective and accurate solutions to abate the infection transmission across the country while boosting its stance in the global market.

Although the rising patient pool has produced a shortage of PPE, various organizations like 3M Company, Honeywell, and multiple others, have laid their focus on establishing M&As to manage the increasing demand for these. Thus, these strategic initiatives would enhance the industry outlook over the forecast period.

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Source: Global Market Insights, Inc.

trade protectionism

Trade Protectionism Won’t Help Fight COVID-19

Countries around the world are limiting international trade and turning inward, seeking to produce nearly everything — especially medical supplies — themselves.

The Trump administration, for instance, is considering a “Buy American” executive order that would require federal agencies to purchase domestically made masks, ventilators, and medicines. And over two dozen countries — including France, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan — have banned domestic companies from exporting medical supplies.

The scramble for self-sufficiency in medical supplies and medicines needed to fight the coronavirus is make-believe. It is neither feasible nor desirable, and will only deepen the pain felt amidst this pandemic.

Governments around the world have responded to COVID-19 by imposing export restrictions on things like ventilators and masks. In mid-April, Syria became the 76th country to follow suit. The import side of things isn’t much better. The World Trade Organization (WTO) reports that tariffs remain stubbornly high on protective medical gear, averaging 11.5 percent across the 164 members of the Geneva-based institution, and peaking at just under 30 percent.

This is no way to fight a pandemic.

It’s not that COVID-19 caused this bout of trade protectionism. It’s just that COVID-19 offers up a useful narrative to promote trade protectionism.

The Trump administration, for instance, has been touting its “Buy American” executive order as a move to spur local manufacturing. Canada has also considered going it alone in ventilators and masks, but recently acknowledged it can’t possibly achieve self-sufficiency in medicines. No one can.

The way many governments see it, the only thing standing in the way of greater self-reliance in medical equipment and medicines is the will to pay for it. The story is that ventilators might be more expensive if made domestically, but that’s the cost of going it alone. It’s only a matter of getting Bauer and Brooks Brothers, for example, to make personal protective equipment, rather than hockey gear and clothing.

But there’s a reason Bauer makes skates instead of surgical masks. It’s better at it, and skates are a much more lucrative business. Bauer didn’t misread the market. It’s heartwarming to hear that Bauer is stepping in to help out, but the company knows that making surgical masks in the US is five times more expensive than making them in China. That’s why 95 percent of the surgical masks in the US are imported.

The absurdity of self-sufficiency in medicines is even more glaring. The US is a major exporter of medicines, but the raw chemicals used to make them are imported. Nearly three-quarters of the facilities that manufacture America’s “active pharmaceutical ingredients” are overseas. To reorient supply chains to produce these ingredients domestically would take up to 10 years and cost $2 billion for each new facility.  Consumers would pay at least 30 percent more at the pharmacy.

The last plug for self-sufficiency in medical equipment and medicines is that it’s not a good idea to depend on adversaries to keep us healthy. We don’t. What’s striking about medicines, medical equipment, and personal protective products is that market share is highly concentrated among allies. For example, Germany, the US, and Switzerland supply 35 percent of medical products sold worldwide. True, China leads the top ten list of personal protective products, at 17 percent market share, but the other nine, including the US at number three, are all longstanding allies. To be sure, the untold story of China is that it depends on Germany and the United States for nearly 40 percent of its medical products.

This past week, the WTO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called for an end to the folly of trade restrictions during this pandemic. The communique should have — but obviously couldn’t — call out governments around the world for maintaining, on average, a 17 percent tariff on soap. That tariffs on face masks average nearly 10 percent is baffling. That 20 countries in the WTO have no legal ceiling on the tariffs they impose on medicines is unforgivable.

Self-sufficiency in medical supplies and medicines is a political sop. It’s a narrative that can’t deliver anything but misery. If governments want to fight COVID-19, they should spend more time looking at how they’re denying themselves access to medical necessities, and less time on how to deny others the tools to save lives.

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Marc L. Busch is the Karl F. Landegger professor of international business diplomacy at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council.

car shipping

Effects of COVID-19 Outbreak on the Car Shipping Industry

There is hardly an industry in the world that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19. While tourism and travel industries have arguably suffered the most, industries related to shipping are not far behind. So, what precisely are the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the car shipping industry, and how will it behave in the following months? Well, that is what we are here to find out.

How COVID-19 affects car industry

To get a good understanding of the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on car shipping we first need to take a look at the car industry itself. After all, a big part of car shipping is closely connected to car manufacture and sale. So it stands to reason that any effects that the coronavirus outbreak has had on the car industry will have a ripple effect on car shipping.

Reduced production

The best way to imagine the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is to envision it as a wave. It started off in China and then made its way into numerous countries. This means that it did not affect all countries at the same time. Therefore, there is a notable time difference when the COVID-19 started effecting companies depending on where those companies were situated. And there will be a notable time difference to when these companies will be able to start recovering from the effects of COVID-19.

Worker safety

The first effect that COVID-19 has had on both the car industry and the car shipping industry is the mandatory safety standards for workers. Standards such as:

-Physical distancing.

-Hand sanitation.

-Mandatory masks and protective gloves.

-Increased ventilation.

Countries were quick to instate these measures, as they are the most cost-effective. And they will also be the last ones that the countries are able to lift. This, as you might guess, makes the overall industry a bit slower. Not only do workers have to take the time to adhere to these regulations, but, there is also an increase in state inspections that ensure that those regulations are met.

Little to no demand

As the coronavirus pandemic got stronger, the economy of the affected countries grew weaker. After it became evident that the safety measures weren’t enough, countries turned towards lockdown and curfews. This has led to a significant drop in trade. The full economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic are still hard to quantify. But, if there is one thing we can say for sure, it’s that the demand for cars has plummeted as a result. People were fearful of losing their jobs. And seeing that 22 million Americans claimed for unemployment benefits as a result of COVID-19, those fears were not without ground. And the last thing that unemployed or scared people do is go out of their way to purchase cars.

The following effects of COVID-19 outbreak on the car shipping

So, with the reduced trade and halted production, what were the following effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on car shipping? Well, not good. There is hardly a shipping company that hasn’t taken a hard financial hit due to worldwide lockdowns. Companies that also deal with medical shipping did fair a bit better since a lot of countries urgently needed medical supplies. But, when it comes to car shipping, companies have slowed down to a crawl.

International shipping

Since almost 80% of car manufacturers have some part of their production done in China, they were among the first industries to feel the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on car shipping. Once the outbreak started it was almost impossible to ship cars or car parts outside of China as the country soon went into lockdown. This scenario, as we mentioned, occurred in subsequent countries as they became affected by COVID-19. International trade, and therefore international shipping of cars, has slowed down considerably. Now, since it is fairly safe to ship cars even during COVID-19, companies managed to tackle a large number of shipments scheduled before the COVID-19 outbreak. But during the hiatus of the pandemic, international car shipping was practically non-existent.

Local shipping

When it comes to local shipping, car shipping companies are doing a bit better. Companies that are situated in a country with a decent local economy had no trouble dealing with local car shipping needs. After all, intrastate shipping has far fewer restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Moving industry

A big part of car shipping is related to the moving industry. After all, one of the reasons why people choose to ship their cars is because they need to move. Or, they have already relocated and they need their car shipped to them. So, with this in mind, what was the effect of the coronavirus on the moving industry (when related to car shipping)? Well, again, not good. Relocation was practically non-existent in the past couple of months. This, in turn, means that people didn’t ship their cars due to relocation. There was a decent amount of people moving back to their home states when quarantine measures were instated. But, international car shipping was difficult, to say the least.

Recovery

If the car shipping industry is to recover from the effects of COVID-19, it needs to do so slowly. As of writing this article, the coronavirus pandemic is slowing down and countries are lifting certain safety measures. Therefore, we should see an increase in international trade, especially from China (which is quite important for car shipping). But, if we are not careful, we might see another coronavirus pandemic in the near future. The key thing here is for countries and companies to slowly tackle the recovery process and to keep public health in mind while increasing trade. Only by doing so will the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the car shipping industry wane. After all, the last thing we want is for another wave of the coronavirus to hit.

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Scarlett-Rose Duffy is an established expert in the moving and shipping industry. She is most known for work as an industry advisor, in addition to her work with All Season Movers NJ.

global trade

Global Trade Talk: Reconfiguring US-China Supply Chains for a Post-Coronavirus World

Global Trade Talk is part of an ongoing series highlighting international business, trade, investment, and site location issues and opportunities. This article focuses on the conversation between Jack Perkowski, JFP Holdings Ltd., and Keith Rabin, KWR International, Inc.

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Hello Jack, how are you? It has been a long time since we last talked. Before we begin, can you tell us about your background and current activities?

After graduating from Harvard Business School, I went to work on Wall Street, joining Paine Webber, where I served for 20 years and ended up running the Investment Banking Department. I then decided to do something different for a second career and became interested in Asia. That led to a trip to Hong Kong in 1990 and my moving there in late 1991. I quickly decided within Asia, China was the key driver, and in 1992 made my first trip to the Mainland.

At that time, China’s auto market was small and fragmented. They were manufacturing about 500 thousand vehicles a year, but it was clear the country wanted to develop a large auto industry. However, foreign companies were slow to enter because volumes were too small, so to encourage investment, the government allowed foreigners to have majority ownership in automotive components companies. That is now allowed in most industries in China, but at the time, auto components were the only industry where this was permitted.

I decided to do a roll-up buying majority ownership in a dozen leading auto component companies; putting them under one umbrella; introducing new management and quality systems. To test whether this could work, I visited 100 factories in 40 cities, and concluded it was a viable strategy. I then went back to Wall Street and raised $150 million over the Christmas holidays in 1993 to fund the company. In February 1994, I founded ASIMCO Technologies, an automotive components company focused on China’s emerging auto market. A year later, we raised another $150 million. Over several years, we invested $300 million, which is a lot of money even today. In 1995, though, it was a very large sum.

ASIMCO evolved into a company with 12,000 employees, 17 factories and about a billion dollars in sales. In 2009, ASIMCO was sold to Bain Capital, and I started JFP Holdings, which helps foreign companies to determine whether there is a market in China for their product, service or technology. We also help Chinese companies to expand in overseas markets. We are very hands-on, undertaking research, and then helping our clients to effectively develop and implement their strategies and ongoing business operations.

Almost ten years ago we published an interview with you titled “Profiting from China’s Domestic Economy” concerning China’s rise over several decades to become the world’s second-largest economy. Can you talk about China’s emergence and the role it now plays in the world economy?

China’s growth has been very rapid and it became the world’s second-largest economy about the time we spoke in 2010. Its GDP was about $1.3 trillion in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) – and over the past 20 years, it has grown by more than tenfold to about $14 trillion. In contrast, the US remains the world’s largest economy, at about $22 trillion.

Japan, which had been in second place, is now third, at about $5 trillion – so there is quite a drop from second to third place. Therefore, if you are a company looking for growth, China is very important. It is hard to see how in coming decades a company can maintain or build a global leadership position if it does not have a meaningful presence there. This is reflected in the Fortune 500 list, which now has as many Chinese firms included as from the US.

Per capita income in China has also risen to around $10 thousand a year. That, however, is a bit misleading, because it is an average. It includes an emerging middle and upper class of more than 500 million people, which is about 1.5 times the entire population of the US. These people largely live in major cities and are rapidly increasing their consumption. McKinsey, for example, estimated [1] last year that China delivered more than half of global growth in luxury spending between 2012 and 2018 and is expected to deliver 65% of additional spending into 2025.

This is important. US companies and policymakers need to think of China – not only in terms of manufacturing and sourcing – but also as an important driver of global growth. Therefore, while we need to address the dangers of being over-reliant on China in our supply chain, we also must remain aware of China’s growing global market share, so we can benefit and participate in a fair, constructive and competitive manner.

It is true that China’s economy is increasingly driven by consumer demand. It has also become an important source of R&D and innovation – trends that have risen dramatically since we last talked. Can you talk about this phenomenon, where China stands, and what it means to the US and companies and investors?

Unlike many who located factories in China as a way to reduce the costs of US production, I did not set up ASIMCO as an export company. Our emphasis was on becoming an important part of the local auto market. At the same time, we worked with foreign companies such as Bosch, Caterpillar, and others that sourced components in China, but viewed that as an extra revenue source and a way to ensure our factories could produce to international standards. Lowering labor costs was certainly a factor, but not the central element of our strategy, as I knew costs would rise as China developed. Toyota, for example, is a company that takes a similar view and doesn’t really embrace cost alone as a strategy. It has always wanted its suppliers to make components locally where possible so they can be close to where they are being used. That has been our approach as well.

Bottom line – to benefit from growth in China you need to be there. That is the only way to truly understand and participate. When we began, potential Chinese customers told us they would not take us seriously unless we had a factory there. That is important. The Chinese understand networks and supporting firms follow production. This leads to investment, infrastructure, and development of auxiliary industries and innovation within the supply chain. Academic institutions also respond and take steps to train engineers and others with the critical skills needed. This leads to advanced research and an ability to apply technologies and launch success stories. These make investors comfortable and provide additional benefits – which have value not only in China – but in other markets around the world.

With respect to innovation, few Americans realize how rapidly China is developing in areas including digital technologies, consumer payments, e-commerce, and services. In some areas, it is becoming more advanced than the US and we can learn from them. It is important to keep this in perspective and to balance the need to address trade issues and strengthen and safeguard our supply chain with the need to remain present and involved in this increasingly important market. This is the way we can sustain and advance growth and our global competitiveness.

At the same time, there is a legitimate concern in the US about Chinese technology. I spoke to a group of tech executives and investors in Jackson Hole last year. All they wanted to talk about was China’s development of 5G. While there are security implications if Chinese 5G equipment is installed in the US, you can’t blame China for taking steps to move up the value chain. The US also needs to upgrade our capacity and competitiveness – and our ability to develop the products, services, and supply chains that are needed moving forward.

China’s growth has heightened its political ambitions and in recent years we have seen growing tension in the South China Sea, the pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative, control over rare earth metals, rising tariffs and trade disputes, blockage of Huawei and a generally more competitive posture than in the past. This has strained bilateral relations with the US and led to anxiety in Asia and other countries. What does this portend for China and US-China relations moving forward? Considering these developments and backlash over China with coronavirus what changes are we likely to see from China in respect to its trade and bilateral relations with other nations and multilateral institutions?

China joined the WTO in 2001 and there has since been a sharp uptick in every economic measure. Its economy has grown about ten times and the country has clearly benefitted from globalization. Meanwhile, the US and the rest of the world looked the other way as many Chinese policies and business practices during this period have been in violation of international trade practices. We have been like two ships passing in the night. No one, regardless of who was in the White House, wanted to address contentious trade, IPR, technology transfer, and other key issues.

Every year there was a state dinner or two and leaders of each country would shake hands, but important issues were never discussed in a direct, constructive way. President Trump has done this for the first time and the dynamics have changed. Up until the coronavirus, however, most of the world considered the Trade War as “Trump’s Trade War,” but the virus has caused trillions of dollars of damages throughout the world, and now many more countries will be concerned about China’s behavior. This will place more pressure on both Chinese companies and the government – and the country will have to adjust. At the same time, China’s leadership is going back to its more authoritarian roots, and no one likes that —least of all the Chinese people.

While many of China’s relationships with other countries are likely to be more confrontational going forward, I remain optimistic. At the beginning of the year, a phase one US-China trade agreement was signed. When it came out, many said the US did not get what it needed, and others said it was like the “unequal” treaties China entered with western powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I knew it could not be both and read through it.

Everyone has focused on the provision that says China will buy significant merchandise from the United States over the next two years, but the agreement also deals with IPR, currency manipulation, and other key issues. Most importantly, it includes an arbitration mechanism that provides for quarterly meetings between the US Trade Representative and China’s Deputy Prime Minister where issues of non-compliance are discussed and resolved. To me, this seems like a better approach than trying to take Chinese companies to court.

The real question is will the phase one deal be implemented? In my view, the economic devastation that has resulted from the coronavirus ensures that it will. The US and the Trump Administration want the purchases to go through and China wants tariffs to be lifted. So both sides are under pressure to comply. In a curious way, while our countries are at odds at the governmental level – there are real incentives to work through these important issues – which many in China also would like to see resolved. As a result, I believe the virus will help to build consensus and facilitate the implementation of the January 15th agreement.

The COVID-19 coronavirus is having a dramatic effect on global health as well as the global economy and China. What is the current situation in China? How has the virus affected its economy, and can we trust the data that is emerging? What lessons can we draw from the Chinese experience and what changes might result in respect to US-China and global economic relations and trade moving forward?

I don’t know the exact number of cases and deaths in China, and you can certainly fault their transparency and failure to alert the rest of the world. But, once China recognized the seriousness of the virus, the government imposed draconian measures within its borders that could not be applied here. For example, in the US you cannot rope off and restrict millions of people or undertake the kind of contact tracing and restrictions seen in China.

In this way, China was able to arrest the spread of the virus but nonetheless took a big hit in the first quarter. The second quarter will also not be great. China is, however, implementing stimulus measures – not the roads, bridges, and the infrastructure spending we saw after the 2008 financial crisis – but measures to increase the development of 5G and other technologies that were outlined as key industries in the country’s “Made in China 2025” plan.

As a result, China is likely to have a strong second half. The IMF predicts 1.3% annual growth in 2020. This is certainly down from the double-digit growth enjoyed over recent decades, but it is still positive. The bottom line is, while China is still practicing social distancing, imposing precautions, and incurring hardships, the country is largely back to work. We know that because we deal with businesses and factories all over China, including Hubei province where the virus originated. From what we see, the factories are close to full production. China was the first to take the hit, and it is now the first to recover. Beginning in the third quarter, we think growth will pick up and China is likely to see a V-shaped recovery.

For decades the US embraced China’s rise, and production moved there so companies could reduce costs, raise profitability, and access a new, large emerging market. That began to change with growing concerns over jobs, income inequality, and supply chain security. This sentiment accelerated as President Trump began to impose tariffs and even more now with the coronavirus. The result is more serious talk about bringing jobs and production back to the US. Is this possible and what would it mean for US companies, policymakers, and our economy?

It is definitely possible. A lot of production in the US moved to China in recent decades and the pendulum went way too far in that direction. Many jobs were lost; there was social dislocation, and the security of supply chains for a number of key products has been endangered. At the same time, while the US still possesses research and development advantages, foreign-based supply chains, industrial infrastructure, technical expertise, and networks place us at a disadvantage when it comes to implementation and development.

Much of the offshoring was motivated by the search for lower labor costs – but I think tax and regulatory issues in the US also played a role. So, while we need to address environmental concerns and keep to high standards, we must make the country more attractive if we are to bring companies back. This is particularly true in industries where there needs to be a US presence. That is something that has become even more apparent as trade and political disputes further aggravate this imbalance, and now with the coronavirus, logistics and transportation disruptions have caused inventories to run low.

We are also seeing and helping clients and companies to shift production out of China to Southeast Asia and other emerging markets. This is being done to optimize and diversify supply chains, maintain cost competitiveness, minimize tariff exposure, and to allow access to these growing markets. This is true not only for the US but also for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, European, and other firms. What considerations should companies consider as they reconfigure supply chains and their approach to international markets?

Every company needs to use this time to reexamine its supply chains to determine where they are vulnerable. If they don’t do that – they are simply not doing their job. Governments need to do that as well. If you don’t want the pharmaceutical and other critical industries and materials dependent on China or other nations, it is not enough to criticize foreign practices. You also have to provide real alternatives and incentives to bring production back here. This is true both from an inventory as well as an investor and national security standpoint.

Industries will not, however, come back to where they were in the 1970s and 1980s. The world has changed and we are now far more integrated than we were in the past, both in terms of supply and demand. While the need to address this issue has been clear for some time, US-China trade tensions and the coronavirus have accentuated the need to readjust. Until recently, companies were content to leave production in China as investments and this capacity was already in place – even though many factories were set up at an earlier time when labor costs in China were lower and conditions less developed.  Now, however, as it has become clear how dependent we are on foreign supply, there is more incentive to reevaluate. In many cases, customers, stakeholders, and investors will demand it.

Some of that production will come back to the US, but where cost remains a key determinant, much of it will go to other countries, such as those in Southeast Asia. A concern I have, however, is these countries are so much smaller than China there is a limit to how much production can be shifted there. There is also less opportunity to sell into the local market. Depending on the industry and location, infrastructure and services may also be lacking.

For example, in China, about 25 million vehicles are now manufactured annually, and there has been substantial investment into forging, casting, and other needed functions. These are expensive operations that are hard to replicate. At the same time, Southeast Asia is relatively close, and we are seeing interest from both foreign and Chinese companies to move at least part of their operations there. Because they offer an opportunity to diversify, countries like Vietnam are benefitting from the shift. Other Southeast Asian countries also provide benefits and need to be examined.

A major obstacle in moving jobs and production back to the US is the need to rebuild and upgrade infrastructure as well as our educational, immigration, and healthcare systems to provide the skills and environment needed to allow the transformation that must unfold. What steps need be taken by the US, state, and local governments if we are to rebuild our manufacturing capacity and to both repatriate production that moved offshore and new trade and investment back to the US?

We definitely have the ability to compete. We need to rebuild parts of our economy, but the cost and scope of a large national infrastructure program will be huge and complex, as is education, immigration, and healthcare reform. I believe, however, these goals will be achieved over time.

We also possess many advantages. For example, we are now an energy exporter and able to supply ourselves at low relative costs. Our universities and capital markets also provide strength.  The largest obstacle I see is the need to reduce regulation and institute favorable tax policies.  Addressing the devastating impact of the coronavirus on small businesses, which employ the vast majority of our population, is also now a major, if not our most important, priority. We need to get these people back to work ASAP.

Over the years, we have worked for many economic development agencies as well as private developers to facilitate their efforts to attract trade, investment, and business activity within a range of sectors. Drawing from your experience, what advice can you give to US companies and economic development agencies seeking to attract foreign trade and investment and business partners to enhance their businesses, local economies, and international competitiveness.

There are certain things economic development agencies can do tax-wise to provide incentives and create a welcoming business environment. At the same time, it is especially important to clearly and effectively position themselves to demonstrate competitive advantage and why their cities or states are attractive destinations, while also demonstrating their support for companies who relocate there.

When you travel around China, as we did when we arrived, local authorities roll out the red carpet. They make you feel wanted and have an interest in supporting your development. In contrast, I recently accompanied a Chinese manufacturer to a US Midwestern State as they contemplated setting up a facility there. One of their requests was to meet with local officials. The company we were working with was at first unsure who to meet with but eventually set up a meeting.

The officials were very nice, but it was clear this was unusual and they were not accustomed to meeting foreign companies. They were unsure of what they could contribute and did not seem to understand why they were there. In China, local governments are much more determined and willing to play an active role in wooing investment. In a sense, they try to be partners with businesses that base within their jurisdictions. That seems almost a foreign concept here.

As a result, US companies and economic development agencies should be more active and aggressive – to reduce barriers, provide incentives, and demonstrate an interest in attracting businesses that want to base in their city or state. They also need to demonstrate clear reasons as to the benefits of the location – so decisions are based more on value than on cost alone.

Thank you Jack for your time and attention. Look forward to following up soon.

_______________________________________________________________________

Keith Rabin serves as President at KWR International, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in international market entry, site location and trade, business, investment and economic development; as well as research and public relations/ public affairs services for a wide range of corporate and government clients.

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/China/How%20young%20Chinese%20consumers%20are%20reshaping%20global%20luxury/McKinsey-China-luxury-report-2019-How-young-Chinese-consumers-are-reshaping-global-luxury.ashx
soap

Africa’s Liquid Soap and Washing Preparation Market to Expand Robustly, Driven by Growing Demand Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

IndexBox has just published a new report: ‘Africa – Organic Surface-Active Products For Washing The Skin – Market Analysis, Forecast, Size, Trends And Insights’. Here is a summary of the report’s key findings.

According to the IndexBox study, consumption of organic surface-active products and preparations for washing the skin has nearly doubled over the past decade, due to population growth and rising middle-class incomes. In addition, urbanization had a positive effect. In 2018, the revenue of the skin organic surface-active products market in Africa was estimated at $1.2B, an increase of 2.5% y-o-y. Experts expect that the demand for liquid soap and other detergents will increase significantly in the near future due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumption by Country in Africa

The countries with the highest volumes of skin organic surface-active products consumption in 2018 were Nigeria (148K tonnes), Egypt (104K tonnes) and South Africa (73K tonnes), with a combined 80% share of total consumption. Somalia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Algeria lagged somewhat behind, together accounting for a further 15%.

From 2007 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of skin organic surface-active products consumption, amongst the main consuming countries, was attained by Algeria, while consumption for the other leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

Exports in Africa

In 2018, the exports of organic surface-active products for washing the skin in Africa totaled 7.7K tonnes, picking up by 13% against the previous year. Overall, skin organic surface-active products exports continue to indicate a strong expansion.

In value terms, skin organic surface-active products exports stood at $18M (IndexBox estimates) in 2018.

Exports by Country

South Africa ($14M) remains the largest skin organic surface-active products supplier in Africa, comprising 77% of total skin organic surface-active products exports. The second position in the ranking was occupied by Egypt ($1.8M), with a 9.9% share of total exports.

In South Africa, skin organic surface-active products exports increased at an average annual rate of +16.7% over the period from 2007-2018. In the other countries, the average annual rates were as follows: Egypt (+5.0% per year) and Nigeria (+82.4% per year).

Export Prices by Country

In 2018, the skin organic surface-active products export price in Africa amounted to $2,366 per tonne, leveling off at the previous year. Over the period under review, the skin organic surface-active products export price, however, continues to indicate a relatively flat trend pattern. The pace of growth appeared the most rapid in 2012 an increase of 19% y-o-y. The level of export price peaked at $3,395 per tonne in 2009; however, from 2010 to 2018, export prices failed to regain their momentum.

Prices varied noticeably by the country of origin; the country with the highest price was Egypt ($4,116 per tonne), while South Africa ($2,177 per tonne) was amongst the lowest.

From 2007 to 2018, the most notable rate of growth in terms of prices was attained by Egypt, while the other leaders experienced mixed trends in the export price figures.

Imports in Africa

In 2018, the skin organic surface-active products imports in Africa totaled 37K tonnes, picking up by 21% against the previous year. In general, skin organic surface-active products imports continue to indicate a buoyant increase.

In value terms, skin organic surface-active products imports amounted to $101M (IndexBox estimates) in 2018.

Imports by Country

Algeria ($24M), South Africa ($21M) and Morocco ($9.3M) appeared to be the countries with the highest levels of imports in 2018, with a combined 54% share of total imports. Botswana, Libya, Angola, Namibia, Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritius, Ghana and Zimbabwe lagged somewhat behind, together comprising a further 30%.

In terms of the main importing countries, Zimbabwe experienced the highest growth rate of the value of imports, over the period under review, while imports for the other leaders experienced more modest paces of growth.

Import Prices by Country

In 2018, the skin organic surface-active products import price in Africa amounted to $2,686 per tonne, approximately mirroring the previous year. There were significant differences in the average prices amongst the major importing countries. In 2018, the country with the highest price was Algeria ($3,545 per tonne), while Zimbabwe ($1,468 per tonne) was amongst the lowest.

Source: IndexBox AI Platform

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.

_________________________________________________________

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.