MyView: Export initiative opens doors to new markets, better jobs

Earlier this year, leaders of Portland’s metropolitan export initiative unveiled a plan to help Portland grow its economy by doubling annual exports to $41 billion during the next three years.

The initiative, developed in partnership with the Brookings Institution, was crafted to create sustainable and long-term growth by advancing one of Oregon’s most powerful economic assets: international trade.

The initiative already has a head start toward success — the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which celebrated its one-year anniversary passing through Congress on Oct. 12.

The new agreement eliminates tariffs on Oregon goods and services being exported to Korea, provides stronger protections for our intellectual property, and institutes new rules to ensure compliance and fair trade.

The free-trade agreement more closely connects Oregon businesses with Korea’s dynamic $1 trillion economy, 50 million consumers and a regional hub for trade in Asia.

In the past year, Korea has proven itself an important asset in helping Oregon companies expand their business overseas and create jobs and growth for the state.

From January through July of this year, Oregon exported $712 million in goods to Korea, an increase of $88 million (14 percent) from the same period in 2011. Korea ranks as one of the top six countries buying Oregon’s products, and sales and opportunities there are growing, not declining.

Under the agreement, Oregon’s technology sector — one of the major focuses of Portland’s metro export initiative — will see tremendous growth. That’s because the agreement allows Oregon high-tech goods to flow into Korea duty free, and it gives much stronger protection for our companies’ intellectual property than what was in place before.

Our agricultural industry has also been especially successful, with products such as livestock feed, wine and blueberries seeing significant gains in exports to Korea. Columbia Grain Inc., one of Portland’s largest agricultural exporters, sells as much as 14 percent of its wheat to Korea in any given year.

The elimination of Korean tariffs under the agreement lowers costs for Korean customers and their consumers, encouraging continued (and increased) trade in one of our strongest agricultural exports.

Some of the most significant benefits for Oregon and companies like Columbia Grain, however, come from trade itself. International trade with Asia is arguably the largest job creator and economic driver in the state. A recent study released by the Portland Business Alliance found that 470,000 Oregon jobs are supported by trade.

From the companies conducting international business and warehouse employees to retailers, transportation officials and dock workers at the Port of Portland, trade benefits everyone. It also opens up Oregon to international investment, tourism and highly skilled workers.

Why does this matter? Because jobs that rely on markets outside our region pay, on average, 9 percent to 18 percent more than those focused on the local market. In a state dependent on the income tax, more pay for workers also means more revenue for education and public safety.

International trade is a growth engine. It pushes our economy forward, positioning Oregon companies to expand their businesses and create jobs. As more businesses take advantage of the opportunities from trading with Korea, we can help Portland reach its export goals under its new metro export initiative.

With the cooperation of organizations like the Portland Business Alliance and U.S.-Korea Connect, $41 billion in exports by 2016 will be just the beginning.

Doug Badger is executive director of the Pacific Northwest International Trade Association. Kurt Haarmann is vice president of Columbia Grain Inc.

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