What’s International Trade Got to Do with Washington state?

Well, it’s my first week on the job, and – in between signing HR benefit forms and getting my computer/phone/cell situation in order – it’s high time that I give y’all another blog post. I mean, you didn’t “like” WCIT on Facebook, join WCIT’s LinkedIn group and follow WCIT on Twiiter (@WashingtonTrade) just to make yourself look cool (although it certainly helps)…you did those social media things so you could get the latest and greatest, hot off the presses from the Washington Council on International Trade.

And I’m not going to give you any old post. I’m a man of my word and, in the last post, I said that this post would be entitled “What’s International Trade Got to Do with Washington state?” And so it will be. I mean, if you now know from the last post “What’s an International Trade Issue” then it’s only fair that you should understand why you should care in the first place.

And believe me, Washington state resident, you should care very, very much.

First off, the facts (a decent place to start generally): international trade drives Washington’s economy. Our state is the fourth largest exporter in the country and has consistently had one of the highest “export per capita” and “exports as a percentage of state GDP” ratios among all states. That’s why you hear people saying things like “Washington is the most trade dependent states in the country” and “One in three jobs in Washington state is tied to international trade.” We’re talking about $46.6 billion in goods exports in 2010, and that doesn’t even include services exports…things like software licensing (probably a pretty big deal in our IT-heavy state), legal and architectural services, tourism and even tuition fees paid by foreign nationals; that could be more than $20 billion in-and-of itself.

Now, a normal blog might just show you those stats and call it a day. But not State of Trade! We know that our loyal readers like to go “beyond the numbers” and talk about real things affecting real people in their daily lives…the kitchen table issues so to speak. So, let’s talk about those…like your kitchen table, which may have been a product of international trade (especially if you bought it at IKEA). A huge percentage of the goods that we all use every day are a result of international trade, like your cell phone, your computer or even your car. And let’s not forget your precious Starbucks cup of coffee; you can’t grow fair trade, shade grown beans in my backyard, if you know what I mean.

[An important side point that these last examples bring up, of course, is that it’s not only about exports, but also about imports. Yes, we like exports because they bring in wealth and jobs into the state. But we also like imports, because we like to buy things that aren’t made here. And, while we focus (sometimes way too much*) on trade deficit stats, we shouldn’t interpret that measurement to mean that our ideal world is all exports and no imports. Imports are good for Washington for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that most of the imports that come into our ports are bound for the rest of the country, meaning that we get the economic benefit of companies (rail, trucking, etc.) based here that ship stuff from here to places like Chicago.]

But going back to the “kitchen table” paragraph, you might be saying, “hey, every state buys Toyotas and iPhones; this is supposed to be a post about why Washington uniquely cares.” Fair enough. To me, the most compelling reason for Washington state to care is that both our leading businesses and our fastest growing industries are hugely export dependent.

Think about it. Sure, the largest industry clusters in Washington are aerospace, IT, agriculture and tourism…all huge international trade participants. Obvious. But when we look to the future of our economy, it’s also fast growing industries that are going to be highly trade dependent:

  • Clean tech: For example, did you know that REC Silicon in Moses Lake is the second largest producer of photovoltaic grade silicon in the world?
  • Global health: The largest concentration of global health discovery, development and delivery activity in the world is in Washington.
  • Specialty foods: Yes, Starbucks, but also hundreds of large and small winemakers, beer brewers, fancy snack makers (like Sahale) and soda companies (Jones, Dry) that are already selling their products around the world.
  • Fashion and apparel: Did you know that the Puget Sound region has the fourth highest concentration of fashion designers in the country, behind New York, LA and San Francisco…or that fashion & apparel accounts for $4.6 billion in imports through the Port of Seattle?
  • And the increasing international demand for our services like architecture (including green building) and engineering (someone’s got to build all those high speed rail lines that all the other countries are going to have before we finish light rail in the Puget Sound).

The point is, our unique mix of Washington companies positions us uniquely to benefit from increasing international trade…not to mention our unique geographic advantages. The better that our state and national business climate is for international trade, the better they all do…which means the better we all do…which means that we should all care very much. Ipso Facto, QED.

Now, of course, your next question should be: “What Can We Do To Ensure Our State Is Successful in International Trade Policy?” And, coincidentally enough, that’s next week’s post topic…

*The trade deficit doesn’t do a good job of capturing some of the odd intricacies of our interconnected global economy…like when a Washington company’s subsidiary in China ships a part to Washington to finish a product that then gets sold in China. Plus the whole service exports thing. But that’s another blog post for a different day.

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