Sunday 17 October 2021 | 2 a.m
Cod caught in Norway is packaged in ice and airlifted to China for processing, then sent back to Scandinavian supermarkets for sale – a 20,000 mile round trip. Alaskan salmon caught in the northwestern United States are shipped to China to be boned and then returned to the United States to be placed in fish markets, traveling 8,000 miles in total. The components of some smartphones collectively travel some 500,000 miles before being put together and ending up in people’s pockets.
These are just a few examples of a global economy gone mad, where it makes financial sense – but not another – to ship a dizzying array of products across oceans and continents en route. to the markets.
Factors in this regard include the availability of cheap labor abroad, fossil fuel subsidies that maintain the lifeblood of global shipping, and global trade agreements that allow transnational corporations to take advantage of. tax loopholes and exploiting differences between nations in labor and environmental standards.
The result is a system that is very sensitive to supply chain disruptions and can drive inflation up due to limited availability of certain products, as we are seeing now, and is horrendous for the environment.
It also completely flips logic in many ways. Among them:
• Some countries import products that they could simply have produced themselves. For example, the United States imported almost half a million tonnes of potatoes in 2017, while exporting almost the exact same amount. Ditto for the beef, but more.
• As noted above, products are shipped thousands of miles away for processing before being returned for sale, a process some refer to as “re-import”. In the case of these Alaskan salmon, the Seattle Times explained that the fish contains 36 bones that are best removed by hand – a job that costs 20 cents a pound to do in China but would cost $ 1 a pound. delivers to the United States. sends 30 million pounds of salmon a year for boning: the cumulative cost difference for that amount of labor in China versus the United States would be $ 24 million.
• Tech publication Wired produced a remarkable story in 2016 in which it traced the expedition involved in assembling an iPhone’s home button and its built-in fingerprint sensor across China, Taiwan and Japan, a distance of about 7,000 miles. And that’s before the product is shipped for sale.
• Sugar cane grown in Hawaii is processed into a “raw sugar” phase, then shipped to a refinery near San Francisco, then transported to New York City to be wrapped in individual paper packages. These packages are distributed nationwide, including Hawaii. From the cane field to the coffee, the sugar will travel about 10,000 miles.
All of these shipments create a carbon footprint the size of Mount Everest, with greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping increasing more than twice as fast as emissions from other sources. The problem is accelerating in part because of the shipping of perishable goods, which are often transported by air. This saves time, but the emissions from air transport are more than twice that of maritime transport.
It is also precarious, relying on an unrealistic and cheap supply of oil that the world cannot continue to produce. With soaring oil prices, the “cheap” products that the United States imports from China would become more expensive than producing them on American soil.
In the United States, the situation calls for the repatriation of jobs and industries to our country and our hemisphere.
It would protect consumers from disruption, help fight climate change, and benefit America’s middle and working classes while strengthening our neighboring countries.
There are also national and global security implications, as a return to American jobs would juggle the global economy and remind China that its current prosperity is the result of being a good citizen of the world. If he wants to threaten his neighbors and trample on rights, the future of the Chinese will be a return to isolation and poverty as the world turns its back.
President Joe Biden has taken steps to unravel the current supply chain mess, including facilitating a deal for the Port of Los Angeles to operate 24/7, but the broader solution is to create tax breaks for the repatriation of jobs and industries. in the United States and lower paying jobs in Mexico, Central and South America. American and European companies essentially created the boom in China by outsourcing too many economic activities there. It is better to build our own nation and our neighbors in the hemisphere.
This would protect American consumers from product shortages and inflation while strengthening the economies of our hemispheric neighbors, enhancing their ability to trade with the United States and purchase products made in the United States. Having prosperous neighbors is inherently good – it also helps solve immigration issues by giving newly prosperous neighbors a reason to stay home. The environmental benefits would also be significant.
As it stands, the intercontinental transport of too many products defeats reason and simply cannot be sustained. The sooner the United States starts creating jobs, the better.