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Chinese virus outbreak affects US trade missions

Concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in China have led some California farm groups to halt their trade missions. Others brace for further market impacts from China's already-slowing economy.

Travel plans made months ago to take a delegation of growers to China and Hong Kong in April to promote California prunes have been postponed, confirmed Donn Zea, executive director of the California Prune Board.

He said the board made the decision to cancel the trip even before the U.S. State Department issued its advisory last week warning Americans not to travel to China due to the public health threat posed by the coronavirus. The board's market representatives in Shanghai and Hong Kong first advised against the trip, Zea said, as "what they were seeing was a little bit more alarming than what we were hearing here."

"We had a lot of the itinerary details already planned. People were getting excited," he said. And though the board took the warnings of those in China seriously, he added, "we told them we were going to wait and see how it evolved, but they ended up being very right."

With major commercial airlines in the U.S. and elsewhere reducing or suspending routes to and from China, Jock O'Connell, international trade advisor for Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics, said people whose normal business is to meet with prospective buyers in person to cement deals will have a hard time getting to China, and those would-be customers will probably have an even harder time coming here.

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