The British Are Coming

Oh no. I can't go to Trader Joe's or Fresh & Easy? You'll recall that TJ's is a German-owned retailer and therefore off-limits during my Buy-USA year. And now the business section of my morning paper says that our brand spanking new Fresh & Easy, which I'd hoped would replace TJ's (especially in the fresh salads department), is owned by British grocery behemoth, Tesco. The third largest retailer in the world in sales and the second largest (behind Wal-Mart) in profits, Tesco has opened 168 Fresh & Easy stores in the Western United States. According to Wikipedia, Fresh & Easy "has plans for rapid growth." Yet Fresh & Easy dubs itself a "neighborhood market." That's one huge neighborhood, don't you think?

So I wondered, in tit-for-tat fashion, whether Wal-Mart--Tesco's closest competitor--has stores in the UK. Well, as it turns out, British grocery chain Asda is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart. "In December, 2010, 16.5% of UK grocery shoppers used Asda for their main shop," Wiki reports. Their store's motto: Britain's Lowest Priced Supermarket, 13 Years Running. (The motto should go on to say Because we're stocked with Made in China loot.)

But where does all this Wikipedia-based information put me, an American consumer? How do I know where to spend my money? I know my dollars aren't going to make or break Fresh & Easy. It's not like I'm supplying groceries for a chain of restaurants. It's just me and Richie C / Don here, schlepping along, buying food for our daily meals. So maybe I should give in, check out the new Fresh & Easy. After all, part of the money I'd spend would go into my community's coffers. Buy a salad for lunch. Visit with the clerks. Bump into neighbors. Stand side-by-side with the Brits. Support them. Hey, I was an English Lit major. I analyzed Chaucer. I'm fluent in Austen. I want my Fresh & Easy. And I want it now. Why am I doing this again…?

I'm about to drive over to Fresh & Easy when I stop and think about Dad for a moment. I picture him smiling, or maybe puzzled, watching me do this yearlong project. He's saying "What are you? Nuts? You don't need to do that." I think about how he used to kiss the top of my head and say "How's my Sunshine Girl?" And now I picture him on Sunday's Academy Awards night, sort of floating around in heaven as he sees the Oscars "In Memoriam" segment pass him by and give his spot to that British DP (who for all I know is now one of Dad's best friends in heaven, the two of them debating camera angles and lighting and why George Lucas hires British DPs instead of Americans), and this image suddenly fuels my resolve. I'm going to keep on doing this. And I'm going to remember I'm not alone. Dad can guide me. How do I proceed here? How should trade be again? Oh yeah, even-steven, that's how.

So, using the Flow Chart in Dad's 1970's "Import Backlash" paper as my guide, I simply look at our trade situation with the UK. Remember, Dad's whole theory was goods and services of equal assessed total value should flow back and forth between our country and every other country with which we want to conduct trade.

But Dad was hampered, back in the 70s, by difficulty obtaining trade data. I'm not. I click on the website and go to "U.S. Trade in Goods (Imports, Exports, and Balance) by Country." It couldn't be easier. There's an alphabet. I choose U, find UK. Let's see, are we even-steven with the UK? Or is there an imbalance? If so, is it in our favor, with more of our goods and services flowing to the UK than theirs coming here? Is anyone laughing yet? Of course we are not equal trading partners, despite Wal-Mart's presence (probably because Wal-Mart's products are coming from China, not the USA). Here are the stats: Our current UK trade deficit for the year ending December, 2010 is -$1,258.80. That's in millions of dollars. So it's one billion, two-hundred fifty-eight million more of our dollars going to the UK than coming here to the USA. And that's before the British-made "The King's Speech" won a Best Picture Oscar, thus inevitably bumping up its ticket sales in America. Sorry, had to mention that.

Now I'll admit that a mere one billion, two-hundred fifty-eight million dollars in UK's favor sounds like chump change compared to the -$273,065 (two-hundred seventy-three billion, sixty-five million) dollar trade imbalance with China. And remember, all those US dollars went into China's economy and not ours last year alone. Sigh. But getting back to me and the UK and my Fresh & Easy dilemma: It's a Nice & Easy solution. Skip the UK-owned business, head over to my true neighborhood grocery store, and do my part to narrow the trade gap. My neighborhood store, as I've mentioned before, is family-owned Lunardi's. What's yours? If you don't know, find out. Every trip to the gorcery store, every US dollar spent, counts.