Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg was in Seattle to underscore how the bank’s help to big exporters such as Boeing is crimped by political opponents who haven’t allowed the agency to fill its roster of board members.
Hilliard’s Beer founder Ryan Hilliard was among numerous Washington business owners who breathed a sigh of relief when the Export-Import Bank was reauthorized by Congress in December.
But although the bank reopened, it’s still hobbled by an ongoing political battle. It lacks enough board members to approve transactions larger than $10 million, which affects major exporters such as Boeing, General Electric and Caterpillar.
A cadre of Washington’s congressional delegation along with Gov. Jay Inslee gathered Tuesday at Hilliard’s brewery and taproom in Ballard to join Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg to rally in support of the federal agency.
“The Ex-Im Bank is important to the economy, especially in Washington,” Hilliard said. “It affects more than just Boeing. There’s a bunch of us little guys that need Ex-Im to compete globally as well.”
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Ex-Im Bank provides services such as loan guarantees and credit insurance on the sale of U.S. goods and services to customers in other countries. It’s now functioning with just two of five board members, due to last year’s political battle.
The bank, now in its 82nd year, shut down last summer because a handful of conservative lawmakers blocked votes to reauthorize the bank.
Even with a reduced calendar, the bank managed to support $17 billion worth of exports and 109,000 American jobs in 2015.
The bank is especially influential in Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state. During the last five years, 202 Washington businesses used the bank to support $109 billion worth of exports, according to Ex-Im data.
Boeing is one of the bank’s biggest clients; in 2013, the airplane maker alone made up $8.3 billion or 30 percent of the bank’s total financing.
Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has not allowed hearings to approve nominees for the Ex-Im Bank board.
Hochberg said the board needs only one more member to have a quorum and start moving a backlog of more than $10 billion worth of $10 million-plus deals. That includes six transactions worth $2.6 billion from state exporters.
“We fought for Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization so it could continue to level the playing field for U.S. exporters to help them compete and win in the global marketplace,” wrote Washington’s two senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, in a letter sent Tuesday to President Obama.
The two senators attended the event at Hilliard’s along with Washington Democratic representatives Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck, Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott.
The agency has been dubbed the “bank of Boeing,” because the company is one of its largest users, but nearly 90 percent of the bank’s transactions benefit small businesses.
Hilliard’s, which exports about a third its beer, has a growing niche for its amber and IPA varieties in Sweden and is looking at entering England, South Korea and Australia.
The brewer has used Ex-Im services in the past to borrow money against overseas sales it has already made but hasn’t received payment for.
Hilliard said he sees opportunity overseas for his company’s beers as well as others from Washington, which is home to more than 300 breweries, according the Washington Beer Commission.
“It’s a struggle to get one of the eight tap handles at the bar at the end of the street,” he said referring to the U.S. market. “We can promote Washington craft beer to be a global brand.”