I am not suggesting that what OPEC is doing in the oil markets is wise or that it is moral. But, their restrictions on oil production are not different than our own refusal to explore and develop many of our suspected oil resources. As we will discuss here, we also have a huge impact on world food prices and we clearly manipulate those in many ways which also have nothing to do with the free market. As we complain about the sharp price increases in oil, much of the rest of the world is complaining about the great cost increases in food. We should allow the free market to develop our oil resources and we should allow it to control food production also.
Thomas Barnett wrote an interesting commentary published on 11 June 2008 in the Washington Times, entitled "U.S. edge in global food trade." On the Scripps Howard News Service it is entitled "U.S. sits pretty in global food trade network." Barnett only mentions concerns with the hypocrisy of our food manipulation policies in passing. The point of this article is that he is proud that we are as dominant as we are in the food production business. I am also proud of that and we should have enough self-confidence to allow the free market to prevail. Barnett says, "When the professional fearmongers try to scare you with America's 'oil addiction,' remember this: If the world's got us over the barrel on energy, we've got the world over a bread basket." Here are some of the interesting facts that Barnett notes:
- North America exports 105 million metric tons, the former Soviet Union nations export 21 million, South America 18 million, and Australia/New Zealand 9 million metric tons. Of this the North American share is 68%.
- The net importing regions are: North Africa and the Middle East import 58 million metric tons, Asia imports 47 million, sub-Saharan Africa 17 million, and Europe 12 million metric tons.
- North America imports half its oil, while the Middle East imports three-quarters of its food.
He notes that food is about 0.1 to 0.2 of a household's spending in industrialized nations, but is as much as 0.8 of household spending in developing nations. Today, only 7% of rice is traded globally and 12% of corn is traded. He believes these percentages will increase and that the global food trade network will become as important as the global energy trade network. Rather than moan so much about the cost of oil, we should produce more food for export. Of course, we should also produce more oil and gas as well.