NEWPORT, Ore.—The outbreak of a respiratory illness in China known as coronavirus is hurting American agricultural, fishing and natural resources industries, creating a backlog of exports and disrupting the recent U.S.-China trade deal.
Late Thursday afternoon, Joe Conchelos, president of Oregon Coast Crab Association, was fishing in his vessel, the Kraken, off the coast of Newport, Ore.
He said he hadn't slept in a few days and had just recovered steering control of his boat, but those weren't his main concerns; Conchelos said he was worried about how the virus outbreak would damage his industry.
"We lost our live crab market overnight," said Conchelos. "People in the industry are freaking out."
Crab fishermen export live crabs to China via air cargo, but because of recent quarantines and inspections in an effort to control the virus, air transport of live crabs has collapsed. Conchelos said prices, which have dropped from $5 to $3.85 per pound, continue to fall. And this year's prices directly affect next year's price negotiations.
The virus, also known as COVID-19, is impacting other industries as well.
At a White House press briefing Tuesday, national security adviser Robert O'Brien said the COVID outbreak could reduce Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods.
The virus, O'Brien said, could rattle Phase 1 of the trade agreement, which was signed on Jan. 15 and calls on China to boost its purchases of U.S. farm goods by $40 billion over two years.
“There’s no doubt that the virus could have an impact on the U.S. economy and also on the world economy,” he said.
As of Feb. 14, the virus has sickened more than 60,200 people in Asia, according to health officials. At least 1,368 people have died, all but two in China.
Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the effort to control the virus has not only slowed purchases but created an export backlog, Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, told the Capital Press Thursday.
U.S. agriculture and forest product exporters, he said, are experiencing a sort of traffic jam. Cargo offloaded at terminals in China is backed up; trucking from place to place within China is more restricted; rail lines, seaports and other channels are clogged on both continents.
"The supply chain disruption has crossed the Pacific and is evident at U.S. marine terminals, and inland," said Friedmann.
He said many exporters can't deliver to Chinese customers, are losing sales and are paying for extended time in refrigerated storage. To make matters worse, carriers are announcing new surcharges.
Friedmann urges ocean carriers to refrain from putting penalty charges on containers that are stuck.
Many Chinese buyers have ceased purchasing U.S. goods, said Friedmann. But even if Chinese customers want to buy U.S. agricultural goods, he said, the shortage of available ocean carriers makes that difficult.
Kama Simonds, spokesperson for Portland International Airport, said she has noticed little to no impact on passenger flights. Gauging the impact the virus has had on cargo flights is harder, said Simonds, because the airport tracks when flights come and go, but not what's on them.
Jay Van Rein, public affairs officer at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said it's still too early to predict the scope, but because California is the largest agricultural exporter in the nation, "trade disruptions from the coronavirus will impact exports here."
Andrea Cantu-Schomus, spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said ODA hasn't detected major effects on Oregon agricultural exports yet, but Washington-based trade associations have noted an impact.
"I know we're just one of a lot of export industries taking a major hit," said Conchelos, captain of the Kraken. "It's a tough time all around."