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September has been a tough month in international trade. Almost all commodity prices are down, and — most notably — the price of crude oil is bouncing around between $40 and $50 a barrel — about half of what it was at the beginning of the year.


This has enormous ramifications all over the world, particularly in the underdeveloped countries, which are important customers of the American exporters. One example: Caterpillar, which exports all manner of heavy earth moving and construction equipment, announced at the end of September that they were going to lay off some 2,000 people in the USA because of declining orders abroad.

American exporters of oil field and refinery equipment have also been hit hard, and have had substantial layoffs.

Another lurking problem is in the indebtedness — mostly dollar-denominated — of the underdeveloped countries whose raw material commodity exports (petroleum, copper, coal, zinc and other metal bases, and in Latin America, food and commodity exports) have been hit hard by reduced prices and lower demand, particularly from China. These countries have issued billions of bonded debt, payable in US dollars, and their ability to repay later this year and the beginning of 2016 is starting to be questioned.

On a more optimistic note, there is a tentative agreed draft of the Pacific Rim trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries, not including China. This would be a real shot in the arm for American business. The negotiations have been contentious, and doubtless the politics of the USA will be contentious, and it has to be ratified by all the other countries but some optimism is justified.