Don’t Worry About Your Avocados, Worry About Your Pork
Trump’s threat to close the border is about keeping people out, not product. Meanwhile, administration increases deregulation in the meat processing industry.
At the same time, we are kind of amused at the fact avocado prices have skyrocketed in the face of Trump’s threat, because we see almost no way commercial trade between the U.S. and Mexico will be curtailed, even if Trump does “shut the border”. Trump says “security” to him is more important than trade, but in this case can be almost entirely separated.
That’s because Trump’s threat is 100% for one reason, and one reason only. And he’s made no secret of it in Tweets and chats with the media: he wants to prevent asylum seekers from setting even one foot on U.S. soil. Or putting it another way, “closing the border” would be another end run Trump could attempt to circumvent a U.S. law he doesn’t like, and that Congress doesn’t seem to have the will to change. As we’ve mentioned before, current U.S. law states:
“Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum….The applicant must establish that race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion was or will be at least one central reason for persecuting the applicant.”
Immigrants appearing at the border and applying for asylum has become the main way for refugees from Central America to seek entry into the U.S. So by closing ports of entry, you’d theoretically eliminate that option.
Of course, you’d also probably see an increase in the number of people trying to sneak across the border instead. And Trump’s assertion that “closing the border” would free agents up to patrol huge, lonely stretches of desert wouldn’t really work in practice, because there isn’t just a huge door at a port of entry that you can slam and throw away the key.
Trump’s claim that “closing the border” would also lead to a decrease in drug trafficking is an example of Trump arguing against himself. Because he’s often rejected the data (some from his own administration), that most illegal drugs are smuggled through ports of entry inside shipments of other goods. Instead, Trump’s argued the reason his wall is so badly needed is that most drugs enter the U.S. when drug smugglers “make a left turn” and aim for a stretch of unguarded border.
And the “breaking point” situation at the border right now is largely of Trump’s own making: the result of his disrupting the system. Those asylum seekers are coming in such increasing numbers because they want in before the rules change. (Though one might argue that kind of supports Trump’s contention that many of them are economic refugees, and not in immediate physical danger in their home country, otherwise why would so many of their departures coincide with a potential change in U.S. policy; the urgency should’ve been there before, no?)
Trump’s threat is also intended to punish Mexico for not turning Central American refugees away at its Southern border, allowing them to pass through to the U.S. Even so, blocking cross-border trade would harm U.S. companies much more than it would punish Mexico, and could negatively impact U.S. economic growth in a really big way real quick. And anyway, Trump now says he’s seen improvement in terms of enforcement by Mexico in the past week. Mexico says it’s doing what it’s always done.
One might look to China as evidence Trump isn’t hesitant to make good on his trade threats. But China’s completely different. Because that dispute is really about trade. And Trump didn’t completely shut down trade with China, he just added tariffs. And even then, not hardly as much as he originally said he was going to.
So we’re not saying Trump won’t attempt some kind of closure of the Southern border. Just that it’ll likely be targeted at refugees crossing on foot, not produce crossing on trucks.
So we think the answer to this question posed on Twitter by the Washington Post’s Damian Paletta is a pretty resounding “yes”:
Separately, the Washington Post reports the Trump Administration is turning over much of the responsibility for food safety regulation in the pork industry to pork producers, eliminating about 150 USDA inspectors’ jobs in the process. Apparently, such an action had been previously blocked by the USDA’s chief veterinarian over “concerns about safety for both consumers and livestock”, but as soon as he left, the Trump Administration quickly introduced these deregulation moves.
“More emphasis will be placed on preventing contamination rather than reacting to it afterwards,” says one of the new system’s architects, as reported by the Post. Somehow, that doesn’t help us sleep well at night.
This type of thing is a huge theme for us, and one we don’t think gets covered nearly enough: that regulation does not automatically mean over-regulation. And when industries have been entrusted to police themselves to a significant extent, it’s almost always led to disaster: from chemicals, to savings and loans, to aerospace, to baby strollers. (Let’s also not forget the whole consumer protection movement in the U.S. pretty much began with revelations about conditions in the meatpacking industry.)
That’s because one thing almost all industries like to do when the tethers of government regulation are taken off, is increase the speed of production. That’s extremely likely to happen with pork processors now, adding potential perils for consumers. As one former USDA inspector explains to the Post, faster processing speeds make it much harder to detect certain types of contamination. Not to mention increased dangers of injury to workers in that industry.