The outbreak of E. Coli has already cost lives, but it is also costing livelihoods of farmers who rely on producing and selling agricultural produce. Immediately following the outbreak in Germany, the blame was put on Spanish producers of cucumbers, which lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of kilos of fresh produce, costing Spain an estimated £177m per week in sales. Although Spain is not the source of the outbreak, the problem has not disappeared and will now affect the whole of Europe: at least until the source is identified. Countries such as Spain, France and Germany are big exporters to Russia and these countries are likely to take a big hit with the Russian health service banning imports of EU vegetables. The impact of this action (together with other countries implementing similar strategies) has not only affected agricultural producers, but is also having wider impacts on other sectors, including transportation. If no-one wants to buy the products, there’s very little use for the companies and indeed drivers to deliver them.
The Spanish economy will be looking for compensation from Germany for the losses they incurred, when sales of fruit and vegetables practically ceased following Germany’s initial accusation. As the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero said:
“We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place. … I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”
The effects of this outbreak have spread to UK supermarkets and producers. The former have reported a slight drop in sales of fruit and vegetables, but have not taken this opportunity to drop the prices paid to British growers, which is particularly important for cucumber producers, given the high production costs. Sarah Pettitt of the National Farmers Union said she was ‘extremely encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers.’ In fact some believe that the outbreak could be good for UK producers, as consumers increasingly turn to home-produced products. While the source of the outbreak remains unknown, so does the future of agricultural producers throughout Europe, as well as all those that have any dependence on this huge industry.
E. Coli outbreak: UK cases rise to 11 BBC News (4/6/11)
E coli source hunted as growers fear sales slump Guardian, Robin McKie (4/6/11)
Farmers reel as outbreak hits demand Financial Times, Matt Steinglass and Victor Mallet (3/6/11)
Spain seeks compensation for E. Coli blame BBC News (3/6/11)
E.Coli: Economic impact on the agriculture industry BBC News, Richard Anderson (3/6/11)
Spain says Germany mulls EU aid over cucumber slur Associated Press (3/6/11)
Rose Prince: Cucumbers, diet and Prof Moth Telegraph, Rose Prince (4/6/11)
- Why have cucumber producers been experiencing falling profit margins in recent years?
- Could the outbreak of E Coli bring any benefits to the UK economy?
- What are the costs and benefits to Russian consumers and producers from the protectionists measures that have been imposed on EU imports of fruit and vegetables?
- Which sectors within the European market are likely to experience the biggest problems?
- Explain why the Chairman of the National Farmers Union was ‘encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers’. Why would supermarkets have an incentive to do this?
Growth figures across many countries still remain vulnerable, including the UK, where growth lies at only 0.5%. Despite some countries starting to grow more rapidly, the numbers still remain close to 0. The eurozone area is a particularly interesting case, as there are so many individual countries that are all interdependent. So, despite growth in the eurozone area increasing to 0.8% in the first three months of 2011, which is higher than that for the UK, this doesn’t explain the full story in the area. Germany has grown by 1.5% and it is this figure which has largely contributed to the 0.8% figure. It was also helped by growth of 1% in France and incredibly of 0.8% in Greece, despite its huge debts. The growth in Greece is allegedly down to a better export market.
Why then wasn’t the figure higher? Whilst countries like Germany showed an acceleration in demand, growth remained sluggish in Spain and Italy at only 0.1% and 0.3% respectively and Portugal faced the second consecutive quarter of negative growth and so has officially gone back into recession. This situation may get even worse as the austerity measures put in place by the EU and IMF take effect. One of the key arguments against joining the eurozone is that the policies implemented are never going to be in the best interests of any one country. With some countries beginning to grow more quickly and others remaining sluggish, what should happen to macroeconomic policy? Should interest rates remain low in a bid to boost aggregate demand or should they rise as other countries see accelerating growth?
An interesting question here is why do countries, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal struggle, whilst France and Germany begin their recovery? One obvious explanation is that Germany and France are at the heart of the eurozone, where as Spain, Portugal and Italy remain on the periphery. Ken Wattret at BNP Paribas said:
“The periphery are getting the worst of both worlds. The core countries like Germany are doing really well and that’s keeping the euro strong, and it’s making the ECB [European Central Bank] more inclined to tighten policy.”
If the ECB do go ahead with a tightening of monetary policy, it could spell further trouble for those countries on the periphery of the Euro area that would benefit from interest rates remaining low and a weaker Euro. The following articles look at the conflicts within the 2-speed Eurozone.
Sterling lags euro on growth outlook; trails dollar Reuters (13/5/11)
Eurozone’s growth surprises as UK lags behind Telegraph, Emma Rowley (13/5/11)
Eurozone’s economic growth accelerates BBC News (13/5/11)
Solid finances help drive German economic revival Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (13/5/11)
UK’s economy in the slow lane as eurozone surges Scotsman, Scott Reid (14/5/11)
Euro growth eclipses rivals despite north-south divergences AFP, Roddy Thomson (13/5/11)
Eurozone economic growth data prompts political clash BBC News (13/5/11)
Fresh fears for UK economy as Germany and France power ahead Guardian, Larry Elliott (13/5/11)
Portugal’s GDP is set to shrink this year and next Wall Street Journal, Alex Macdonald and Patricia Kowsmann (14/5/11)
UK GDP Growth National Statistics
Eurozone growth rates ECB
EU countries’ Growth rates of GDP in volume Eurostat News Release (13/5/11)
Real GDP growth rate for EU countries and applicant countries, EEA countries and USA and Japan Eurostat
- What has contributed to the German, French and Greek economies surging ahead?
- Why is there such a north-south divergence in growth within the eurozone?
- What is the most suitable monetary policy for those countries growing more strongly?
- What is the best direction for interest rates and hence the value of the euro for countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal?
- ’The UK economy would be in a worse position if it were a member of the eurozone’. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against this statement?
- What is the relationship between interest rates, the exchange rate and growth?
With the world economy in recession, major exporting countries are suffering more than many, especially exporters of high-quality manufactured products, many of which have a high income elasticity of demand. Germany, the world’s largest exporter, has been particularly hard hit. In the year to April 2009, the value of German exports fell by 28.7 per cent. The following articles look at the data and some of the explanations.
German exports in April 2009: –28.7% on April 2008 Destatis (9/6/09)
German exports plunge amid economic slowdown DW-World (9/6/09)
Weak German economic data dash early recovery hopes Monsters and Critics (9/6/09)
German industry output disappoints, falling 1.9 pct Guardian (9/6/09)
See also this video on the recession in the EU: EU recession ‘deeper than expected’ BBC News (15/5/09)
- Why have German exports fallen considerably more than German GDP? How can the accelerator theory help to explain the fall in German exports?
- If economic sentiment recovers in Germany, how will this affect (a) aggregate demand; (b) imports; (c) exports?
- Find out what has happened to the euro exchange rate index and assess whether movements in the euro have contributed to Germany’s export performance (see for example the Bank of England Statistical Interactive Database).