The Trouble with Tariffs and Three Reasons to Support the Ports

Washington has always been a leader in international trade. From our geographic position as the “Gateway to Asia” to the Washington businesses who equate trade with opportunity to the efforts of our Congressional delegations past and present, our state takes its role as a critical contributor to global commerce seriously.

Of the many Washington players in the global trade game, the most prominent are our ports. Obviously, their physical presence and the efforts of the hard-working men and women who keep the trucks, trains, ships and services running smoothly are visible to everyone. But their impacts – on our region and our country – are often overlooked.

Here are three reasons we should all support our ports.

Ports make our communities stronger: The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma alone support more than 48,000 jobs, generate $4.3B in economic activity, and produce $379M in state and local taxes that fund education, police & fire services, and road improvements. In addition to direct jobs at the ports, contractors and other small businesses that use Port facilities support an additional 443,000 trade-related jobs. Other ports around the state bring the same benefits to their own local communities. In fact, nearly 40% of all Washington jobs are tied directly to trade. Who can argue with an industry that delivers that much value.

We’re a role model for small business opportunity: Washington leads the way when it comes to small businesses participating in international trade, in large part to our geographical proximity to growing markets in Asia and the ease of access provided by our top-notch ports. The ships that rely on Puget Sound and ports up and down the coast, the planes the fly in and out of SeaTac airport, and the railway providers that transport goods from across the state all support the promise of the American dream that so many small businesses embody. When small businesses around the country watch these Washington companies succeed, they see hope, they see opportunity and they see promise that they too can compete on a global scale.

The country is counting on us: While our ports are leaders in bringing Washington products to the world, the web of global trade is much more complex. Boeing employs tens of thousands of Washingtonians to build planes for foreign buyers, but nearly 80% of the parts in those planes are shipped to Washington from manufacturers overseas first. Midwestern soybean farmers rely on Washington ports to export their products to Asia, making soybeans our state’s second largest export, even though we only grow a fraction of them locally. West Coast manufacturers rely on our ports to receive raw materials from Pacific Rim countries at a more economical cost than they would get from domestic producers, keeping their businesses in business. Washington ports sit at the center of a complex web of supply chains that our entire county depends upon for ongoing prosperity.

Even though the Trump Administration is claiming progress on trade negotiations with China, there’s a lot of work to be done. The web of global commerce is complex, tariffs remain on the table, and the domino effect of how every country – the U.S., China, those in the European Union and more – reacts need to be managed carefully.

According to a policy briefing released in March jointly by The Trade Partnership and Trade Partnership Worldwide, every single state is predicted to see net job losses thanks to proposed metal tariffs and any subsequent retaliatory tariffs that may incur as a result. A tariff on almost any good could reverberate through the web, impacting jobs in every industry.

Tariffs on aluminum, steel, and just about any other product will harm the country, but because Washington sits at the heart of these complex trade webs, they’ll hurt Washington and they’ll harm our ports.

It’s time for Washington to reclaim its leadership in global trade. The country needs to know that engaging China with punitive measures may make our country’s and our state’s largest trading partner hesitant to working with us for trade solutions. As a state that represents one of the country’s most active and healthy economies in the country – due in no small part to our leadership in global trade – we need to stand strong and oppose the tariffs so that our ports can continue to bring prosperity to the communities they serve in both Washington state and beyond.

Ashley Dutta
ashleyd@wcit.org
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