The United States needs more people like R. Gordon McGovern if it is to lick its mountainous trade deficit.
Mr. McGovern, president of Campbell Soup Co., reeled off some numbers the other day that said the United States - the world's largest debtor nation - is in hock to foreigners in more ways than one. Mr. McGovern also told us why. We ran the story.In the fiscal year ending last August, Campbell imported 261.6 million pounds of food or food products. Ten years ago, that figure was 63 million pounds. In other words, what we think is a winter-licking bowl of all-American tomato soup from all-American tomatoes grown in New Jersey, Ohio or California for an all-American company like Campbell, may well be a brew of Mexican tomatoes that cost some $20 to $40 less a ton than the U.S. product.
Moreover, that good old all-American hamburger may actually have wended its way to the corner grill all the way from Argentina. And before we begin to get nasty with our neighbors to the south, let's bear in mind that a lot of people in the fast food business have turned to Malaysian palm oil over the more expensive vegetable oil from Illinois.
Chief among the reasons for this world-sourcing" of commodities, as folks at the National Food Processors' Association in Washington call it, are high U.S. land and labor costs.
A lot of Mr. McGovern's fellow food processors don't want to talk about buying food overseas. Their logic: They've got to stay competitive, but they don't want consumers to call them un-American. And they don't want a fight with U.S. farmers who are already on a short fuse.
U.S. industries must be frank about where and how they hurt so that appropriate remedies may be found.