Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
Government numbers out this week were enough to make Chicken Little look like an optimist.
For starters, the Labor Department reports the nation's unemployment rate soared to 4.9 percent in August, the biggest one-month jump in more than six years. The number of families on welfare has increased from a year ago in one of every three states. And bankruptcy filings by U.S. consumers and businesses leapt 24.5 percent in the second quarter.
Those factors overwhelmed indications that worker productivity is on the rebound, and pushed financial markets sharply lower.
One bright spot was on the trade front, where the improving farm export picture got even better.
The U-S is making inroads in the trade world. An agreement signed this week with Mexico is intended to improve coordination between the two countries when dealing with food-borne illnesses.
Information on fresh produce already is shared among the various food safety and agricultural agencies in the U-S and Mexico. The data help facilitate contamination investigations. Under the latest agreement meat, poultry and egg products will be added to the list of contamination coordination efforts.
The effort is an attempt to allow safe products to be shipped into both countries with as few restrictions as possible. And cooperation on food safety is expected to result in more uniformity of inspection standards and regulations between the U-S and Mexico.
(slug: Grain Export)
The Bush administration has expressed interest in exploring a free trade pact with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The four countries are major players in the world's third largest trading block known as the Southern Cone Common Market.
Though a pact with the major South American countries is NOT a priority, the administration feels such an agreement would expedite the move toward a Free Trade Area of the Americas, a free trade zone that would encompass the entire western hemisphere.
California fruit tree farmers accuse the Mexican government of imposing new rules that are choking off trade. Mexico wants the California fruit treated with methyl bromide before it crosses the border. But California fruit growers complain the insecticide is expensive and discolors the produce they grow.
While USDA negotiates with Mexico to have the regulations lifted, California officials estimate the rules will cost their growers up to $3 million in lost shipments.