Companies that depend on access to global markets today face very real and serious risks. Tariffs are reducing our trade flows and threatening over half the imports into the Seattle-Tacoma gateway. More than 40% of jobs throughout Washington state are tied to international trade, and trade with China contributes to nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages.
The impact transcends the Cascades, touching virtually every region of the state.
Washington leaders at all levels can take steps right now to maintain our globally competitive standing while aggressively opening new economic development opportunities. That’s why our organizations traveled to Asia last month — to build upon generations of cultural and economic cooperation between Washington State and China, including our 40-year formal sister port relationship with the Port of Shanghai.
China is the #1 source of imports into Washington state, valued at $32.2 billion in 2018. Washington exporters are losing market opportunities through increased tariffs on sales to China.
Most recent estimates show over a 17% decline in Washington exports facing retaliatory tariffs to China with the largest impact to wheat, hay, dairy products, fresh seafood, fruits and processed fruit and vegetables. Nonagricultural exports, such as iron and steel, mineral fuels and oils, wood pulp, paper, and aluminum, have also taken a heavy hit. Even those who produce ships, electrical machinery, precision and medical instruments and chemical products are feeling the pain.
Additionally, changing global trade routes that benefit East Coast ports could mean fewer imports coming through our gateway as production shifts from China. A long trade war could mean more shipping time for western producers and fewer work opportunities for West Coast workers.
To succeed in this current climate, we need to leverage all of Washington’s natural, infrastructure and workforce assets.
We need globally competitive facilities. Through the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are making strategic investments to ensure that our harbors are competitive — in Seattle alone, investing more than $500 million to make Terminal 5 one of the premier international cargo docks in North America.
Investment in international market development needs to continue, both in established markets like Asia, as well as opportunity areas around the globe. We need to continue investing in promoting the state in key global markets and will continue to lead new trade missions to these markets, despite steps at the national level that disrupt our longstanding mutually beneficial trade and investment relationships.
We can also work directly with industries that are best positioned to support middle-class jobs that depend on trade, such as aerospace, agriculture and food processing, clean energy technology, life sciences and biotech, and maritime.
The Maritime Blue initiative, for example, is a coordinated statewide effort that aims to develop a global hub here for the low-carbon “blue economy” through investments in clean-tech innovation, sustainability, workforce and market development.
Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature invested $5 million through the Clean Energy Fund for a new Maritime Innovation Center in partnership with the port. First steps are underway at the new maritime industries accelerator, where Maritime Blue is recruiting a cohort of high-potential companies to go through an intensive mentoring and market development program with the goal of improving sustainability, financial outlook and growth strategy.
Continued investment in clean energy and new green jobs is a central opportunity to advance economic development throughout our state. China’s ambitious multiyear, multibillion-dollar commitment to invest in the clean energy transformation is staggering. This represents a tremendous opportunity for Washington companies. Industries are heavy fuel users and many, particularly the Chinese, are actively embracing and seeking cleaner sources of renewable energy.
Our state’s success as a great place to work and live stems from a shared determination to make our state globally competitive.
The trade war poses real risk to our economy. The best way through rough weather is to find a calmer course. Washington can focus its efforts on maintaining the historically productive, positive relationships with our neighbors across the Pacific and making the investments that help businesses thrive so that our region stays competitive and economically inclusive during turbulent times.