The Importance of Importing, Part 2

One of the first posts on the State of Trade blog was (cleverly) titled “The Import-ance of Import-ing.” It highlighted the fact that – for Washington state – imports are a major generator of jobs related to international trade and key to the international competitiveness of some of our most successful companies (who succeed in part because they effectively leverage a global supply chain). This is not to say that there aren’t also consequences to importing – since the products made internationally are products that aren’t being made by workers here at home – but that we can’t ignore the benefits. In fact, one of the advantages of the fact that our state is so successful as a global gateway for imports is that we have the capacity for exports; those containers that leave our ports full of Washington goods bound for the rest of the world are containers that arrived here carrying goods from the rest of the world.

Why do I bring this up again?

Well, a few weeks ago (May 7 to 11) was Imports Work for America Week, the kickoff for a new effort called Imports Work. This initiative is backed by a coalition of “organizations representing tens of thousands of businesses employing millions of American workers across the United States who depend on access to imports to compete globally.”  They also tout the benefits to the rest of the world, such as the impact that increased trade has on global development; according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty in the developing world fell from nearly 2 billion in 1981 to an estimated 1.2 billion today, and one key driver of this improvement in living standards has been increased trade.

The Washington Council on International Trade represents the trade interests of both importers and exporters in Washington state, and our policy agenda represents that dual focus. For example, we support passage of the Affordable Footwear Act and the U.S. Optimal Use of Trade to Develop Outerwear and Outdoor Recreation (OUTDOOR) Act, which eliminates tariffs on imported apparel for which there is almost no commercially viable production in the U.S.

However, it’s not just about legislation that directly lowers our import barriers, but also what we get in exchange. John Murphy of the U.S. Chamber makes this point in his post on the Imports Work blog:

The U.S. Chamber has long argued that trading away U.S. import barriers to secure better access to foreign markets is a terrific deal. The recent trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea do this admirably, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — now under negotiation — will do so as well. The U.S. should vigorously pursue such trade agreements.

When I talk to people about the importance of imports to Washington’s economy, I like to say that I think that our state benefits from import-related jobs more than most…because we’re such a major trade gateway thanks to our ports, and because we have so many major retail and manufacturing companies that utilize a global supply chain. But until now, I haven’t had the data to back that up…pretty soon, though, I’m going to be able to.

This past January, WCIT – in collaboration with the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle – launched an effort to update the often used statistic that “1 in 3 jobs in Washington state is tied to trade.” That stat is from 1999 (more than a dozen years old) and doesn’t account for a host of trade related activity that now occurs in our state. The data we’ve collected as part of this new effort  is about to be released, and it’s tremendously exciting. So exciting that I’m not going to share it with you yet (in the business, we call this “a tease”). But, I can tell you that the numbers on import-related jobs are significant.

So stay tuned. Within the next month or so, we’ll be able to prove definitively that – in Washington state – imports work.

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