Swine flu could infect U.S. trade and travel

Fri Apr 24, 2009 5:25pm EDT
 
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By Kyle Peterson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mexico's deadly swine flu could disrupt trade and travel between the United States and Mexico if it prompts restrictions on the movement of goods across the border or sparks fear in consumers, analysts say.

In a first sign of the potential for turmoil in U.S. agricultural markets from the disease, prices for hogs fell to a two-month low on nervous selling as Mexico is a top market for American pork and beef.

The potential impact on trade is far from clear as experts race to learn more about the new strain of flu, which has killed as many as 61 people in Mexico. But shipping and travel industries are especially vigilant.

"If you end up with a significant demand shift, you could end up with a very substantial effect on our products, whether it be government-imposed restrictions or alternatively if the consumers just decide to say 'no'," said Bob Young, chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Since Mexico and Canada are the two largest buyers of U.S. farm goods, such restrictions could be a drag on the U.S. agriculture sector, Young said.

The World Health Organization said it is concerned about 800 "influenza-like" cases in Mexico. In the United States, eight people were infected but have recovered.

Any decision to restrict food shipments due to flu would come from the U.S. Agriculture Department, which has the power to "shut down movement," said Russell Laird, an executive director representing agricultural and food carriers at the American Trucking Associations.

"So far, we haven't heard anything. But if that call is made, we'll make sure to do our part."   Continued...