Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Americans typically greet the dawn of a new year with a sense of optimism. These days, however, consumers aren't exactly celebrating the nation's economic vitality.
Weak retail sales over the holidays reflect the current mood of consumers. Sales were the worst in recent memory.
Despite a decline in sales of existing homes in November, annual sales of both existing and new homes are expected to set records for 2002.
And mounting concerns over the labor market pushed the index of Consumer Confidence lower for the sixth time in seven months.
In rural America, local economies can be heavily influenced by trade agreements. And some of the nation's farmers and ranchers enthusiastically greeted the New Year as some of the tariffs brought about by NAFTA begin to expire.
Wednesday of this past week, several trade tariffs expired as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. On January 1st, 2003, import taxes were removed on, among other things, wheat, dairy products, soy meal and oil, hogs and tobacco.
South of the border, many Mexican producers are convinced that without tariffs on U.S. goods they will be unable to compete locally. So far, President Vicente Fox has refused to renegotiate any NAFTA provisions but farm groups have asked for a meeting in late January to discuss the issue.
The last tariffs, those for corn, sugar and dried beans, will expire on January 1, 2005.
(slug Canadian wheat harvest)
As trade issues are sorted out south of the border, wheat producers to the north are looking at protecting their position in the global market. With 70% of the Canadian crop going for export, grain industry leaders are proposing a fee for the separation of conventional and genetically modified wheat. Researchers estimate the fees for separation will cost Canadian farmers two-and-a-half U.S. dollars per ton.
The request appears to be a preemptive one as no GMO wheat varieties are currently available for commercial use.
(Slug smoke coming out of combine stack)
And closer to home, Environmental Protection Agency officials are expected to submit a new set of rules to the White House covering off-road diesel fueled vehicles. The provisions are expected to require emissions to be reduced by 95%. No time table was set for implementation if the measure is approved.
Ironically, farmers may be growing the raw material that could help them meet the proposed regulations: soybeans. Last year, 20-million gallons were extracted from the simple bean to make bio-diesel and industry officials expect twice as much to be made in 2003.
Currently, a gallon of the renewable fuel can cost up to 30% more than its petroleum-based counterpart.