Snowden scandal could lead to higher prices for broccoli (really)

JHU expert discusses trade standoff between Ecuador, U.S.

Cost-conscious shoppers be warned—a peculiar potential side effect of the Edward Snowden leak saga could soon have you paying more at the grocery store. Call it frozen broccoli fallout.

According to an article posted by Politico earlier this week, Ecuador President Rafael Correa is using Snowden and the National Security Agency surveillance scandal as a reason to pull out of trade agreements with the United States. Those agreements have traditionally kept Ecuadorean imports of frozen broccoli, canned artichokes, and flowers free of tariffs.

Correa suggested he might offer asylum to Snowden after he fled the U.S. in June and has voiced his displeasure with how the U.S. has handled the NSA leak scandal, prompting one member of Congress to threaten to "prevent the renewal of Ecuador's duty-free access." Correa called the threats "blackmail" and suggested Ecuador would not be bullied.

As the existing trade agreements expire and political tensions between Ecuador and the United States intensify, the consumer could soon feel the pinch.

"It goes back to the off-and-on anti-Americanism on the part of Correa," Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, told Politico. "Relations between the two countries are proper at best. The trade agreement became the most egregious up-front issue to use against the United States, and there isn't a great deal of sympathy for Ecuador on that issue.

"In Ecuador, they're very angry and very annoyed, but frankly with the political climate in Ecuador right now, they're not going to say much," he added. "(Ecuador's government is) really cutting off their nose in spite of their face."

U.S. consumers could be caught in the middle. More from Politico:

Consumers will feel the pain. Ecuador is the fourth largest exporter to the U.S. of frozen broccoli (7 percent) and canned artichokes (5 percent), meaning manufacturers of frozen food and importers that rely on these products will be hit hard by the added costs and likely have to pass them along in the form of higher prices, [said Corey Henry, vice president of communications for the American Frozen Food Institute].

But florists and flower lovers will have it worse, as Ecuador is the second-leading source of imported flowers, accounting for 30 percent of the 5 billion stems imported into the U.S. in 2012. (Colombia is the leading source with 60 percent.) Certain large-headed roses only grow in Ecuador, so another country cannot immediately step in to provide a less expensive alternative, said Christine Boldt, Executive Director of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida.

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