A pricier Chinese currency would benefit Washington state's export industries while raising retailers' costs, experts say, but yesterday's...

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A pricier Chinese currency would benefit Washington state’s export industries while raising retailers’ costs, experts say, but yesterday’s 2 percent rise is far too small to have much economic impact either way.

“The effect from today’s move is nil,” said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., and former director of the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.

Lardy and other trade watchers said the real test will be whether China actually allows its currency, the yuan or renminbi, to appreciate gradually during the coming weeks and months.

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If it does, state products from apples and wheat to software and lumber would become cheaper for China to import, presumably stimulating demand in that country.

Last year, Washington exported more than $3.4 billion in goods to China (including Hong Kong), down 3.4 percent from 2003. The decline was due mainly to a sharp drop-off in airplane sales, by far the state’s largest export category.

The aerospace industry probably wouldn’t benefit much from a higher-valued yuan, since the world trade in airplanes and parts is conducted almost entirely in dollars.

Any boost to Boeing and other aerospace companies would be indirect. For example, if a cheaper dollar relative to the yuan encouraged more Chinese to travel abroad, leading Chinese airlines might order more planes.

In addition, Boeing spokesman John Dern said, the long lead times between aircraft orders and deliveries tend to dampen short-term currency impacts.

David Bachman, a China specialist at the Jackson School, said Boeing and Redmond-based Microsoft “have more pressing issues affecting their trade with China than a 2 percent change in the exchange rate.”

Boeing could be hampered if the U.S. government further restricts what technology it can share with Chinese partners, he said; such technology transfers often are a condition for doing business.

Microsoft, for its part, is battling rampant software piracy in China.

Dave Carlson, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said a more favorable exchange rate would help the state’s apples further penetrate mainland China.

“Obviously [the 2 percent increase] isn’t going to hurt anything, but it’d have to be more before you see any dramatic effect,” Carlson said.

Apple exports, to China and elsewhere, are up sharply this year due to last season’s bumper crop.

Through last Sunday, the state exported 1.74 million cartons of apples to Hong Kong and 444,635 cartons to mainland China — up 30.6 percent and 645.1 percent, respectively, from the same period last year.

China’s new policy holds out the possibility of a further gradual rise in the yuan. But experts noted that details of the new system — such as the makeup of the foreign-currency basket against which the yuan will be managed — remain murky. They predicted China would not let market forces be the sole determinant of the yuan’s value.

“It probably would be a big mistake to assume they would let it appreciate 0.3 percent today, 0.3 percent tomorrow, 0.3 percent the next day, and so on,” said Nic Pifer, a bond-fund manager for American Express Financial Advisors in Minneapolis.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seatletimes.com