Some people might wonder what Gov. Chris Gregoire is doing in Asia while the state grapples with a budget emergency. She ought to be forgiven, because the trade mission she is on could drum up the kind of export business that could help pull Washington state’s economy out of the doldrums. This, in turn, could brighten the budget outlook.
Gregoire departed on Monday for an 11-day trade mission to China and Vietnam with a large delegation of business and agricultural leaders. A similar trip to Asia in 2005 reportedly yielded $6 million in contracts with China and another $1 million from Japan. For instance, cherry shipments from state growers went from zero to 750,000 boxes in five years, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic. A 1997 trip led to the lifting of restrictions on Washington wheat.
Vietnam holds promise for cherry exporters, because the nation of 88 million people has a growing middle class. Plus, Washington state orchards are closer than those in Europe. The nation has opened its markets to Washington potatoes.
Thirty percent of the state’s agriculture output is exported. In fact, Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation, so aggressive outreach is a must.
China is the state’s fourth-largest market for apples. Sales are up 37 percent over the past four years, but most of that nation’s interior has yet to be tapped. So that is a prime focus for this year’s mission.
The state’s chief revenue forecaster, Arun Raha, says international trade has been one of the few bright spots in the state’s economy. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke says it could hold the key to leading the entire nation out of recession. The former Washington governor arrived in Seattle on Friday to discuss an Obama administration initiative to double U.S. exports over the next five years. He notes that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of America, but only 1 percent of American companies are exporters.
That certainly indicates greater potential, but the administration still has much work to do to knock down trade barriers and enforce rules. Plus, our nation needs to be careful not to impose its own trade restrictions, which can sometimes be politically expedient but invite retaliation.
Vibrant ports in Seattle and Tacoma are critical to the entire state’s economy, so the governor can be excused this absence. Traveling abroad in search of emerging markets has become an important part of the job.