World Conditions Could Help NW Wheat Growersby Editors
Editorial, Capital Press, November 2, 2001
If anything good comes from the tragic conditions of the world today, it may be that Pacific Northwest what growers ought to get back one of their best customers. Pakistan. And maybe even one of their best old customers. Iran.
Both have been major consumers of the low-protein soft white wheat of the Northwest. But both have also been subject to sanctions by the United States government.
And their predicaments offer proof one more time that wheat -- or food generaly -- makes a lousy weapon of war.
The only ones taking hits on the front lines of a food war are the wheat growers of the Northwest. And in such a crazy battle, they not only suffer loss of income, but they don't even get medals for their heroism.
It might be different if this country lined up its allies as carefully as we do for the conflict that relies on guns and bombs, not food.
But when this nation imposes economic sanctions that include food, some of our closest allies, like Canada, Australia and Europe, race one another to get their wheat into markets this country is abandoning.
Food may make a better insturment of peace than a weapon of war, but even then -- as we are discovering Afghanistan -- the gift of food may not get to its intended beneficiaries. The despots who control them, with whom we are at war, are likely to confiscate it for their own use.
So, when food is used as a weapon, it may hurt the masses who are already crippled, but it's not likely to affect their rulers. They will get what they need with little regard for the desperate population.
With our allies jumping in to serve our markets, the targeted countries may barely notice food sanctions, even if other economic objectives take a toll.
When Iran took American diplomats captive, that act of war may have had the effect of knocking off all American trade regardless of official sanctions. But it certainly cut into Northwest exports. Northwest farmers lost their biggest customer, right or wrong.
The loss of Pakistan's huge market for soft white wheat was more in keeping with standard sanctions. Pakistan and its neighboring adversary, India, were hit by economic sanctions when they went ahead with nuclear tests over American objections.
That was a case where food sanctioins were destined to have no effect except a demonstration of disapproval, but that had already been made. Our farmers lost a large market; Canada and Australia reaped a huge reward.
The Pakistan market won't immediately return to American trade because of its new status as an ally. But Yankee traders again will have the opportunity to go after it and try to wean consumers back from Canadian and Australian commerce.
We have the chance. We don't have the guarantee. Habits have changed since sanctions were imposed. But at least we have that official chain removed from the ankles of the only people really getting hurt by it: the wheat farmers of the Great Northwest.
The change in trade policy with Iran is an unanticipated result of the anti-terrorism alliance. Recent adversaries now find some common gound in their mutual interest in easing international strain. Iran once was a substantial customer. It would be no more than right for it to become one again.
If food is removed from the arsenal and put back on the grocery shelves, we at least will have a chance to sell wheat to a country that once cherished it and should repeat past preferences.
Wheat is a wonderful product. It's just a terrible weapon. Let's put it to its best use.
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