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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 23, 2010 at 9:50 AM

Ports to Obama: Help us help America on exports

Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani and Port of Tacoma Executive Director John Wolfe are weighing in on President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years. In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the two urged the administration to reach out to stakeholders in export-heavy regions, address the shortage of export containers and shipping capacity, and use shipping and supply-chain experts to assist businesses in gaining market share.

For example, the letter states, “The Agriculture Transportation Coalition estimates that American farmers could be exporting twenty percent more product if they could secure both the containers and the space on containers ships.”

The stakes are not small. An estimated 1.4 million Washington jobs are tied to trade and freight. Products being exported range from Boeing aircraft and other aerospace‐related equipment (50 percent, or $33.7 billion, of Washington exports) to wheat, lentils, apples, cherries and wine.

The ports are facing new competition from Prince Rupert in Canada, as well as widened Panama and Suez canals. Another problem: infrastructure has lagged. “Freight mobility concerns are clearly national in scope, and they deserve the close attention of the federal government,” Wolfe told a House subcommittee this month. “Simply put, if we cannot provide efficient, cost-effective intermodal connections and service, the cargo will flow through other port gateways–such as Canada.”

Obama’s goals are ambitious, particularly in the face of Chinese trade policy. But they can’t be addressed without a strategic approach and some major improvements in infrastructure, especially improving capacity for freight rail. Locally, Seattle can’t fall back into its “never decide” mode — the world is moving too fast.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Housing down again

We want the old bubble back

We want a pony

Comments | More in Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Trade

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