ILLUSTRATION BY MARTIN GEE
Oregon is the ninth-most trade dependent state in the country, so it took a significant hit when exports plummeted by 23% statewide in 2009.
But not all exports have suffered equally. While European markets have struggled with the Greek debt crisis of late, Asian economies have bounced back powerfully. That’s good news for Oregon because five of the state’s top six export markets are Asian nations.
The opportunity is richest in China, which shot past Japan and Canada last year to become Oregon’s most important trading partner. Exports from Oregon to China grew by 20% in 2009 while shrinking by 32% to Canada.
All of this has happened in spite of China’s notoriously undervalued currency, to the benefit of Nike, Intel and Schnitzer Steel, to name a few. Specialty manufacturers such as TriQuint Semiconductor of Hillsboro, which builds chips for handheld devices including the iPhone, have also targeted China with success. TriQuint saw its sales in China leap from $137 million in 2008 to $225.5 million in 2009.
With gains like that it’s not surprising that state officials recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to support the Obama Administration’s initiative to increase financing for small- and medium-sized exporters. Obama hopes to double exports and has singled out China as the market with the most potential. Policy-makers are also weighing how best to convince China to boost its currency to lessen the trade imbalance between China and the West.
Meanwhile, the rise of China as a global consumer as well as producer has compelled Northwest timber companies to boost exports of raw logs to China in unprecedented volumes. The Port of Astoria is negotiating a lease with Westerlund Log Handlers to develop a log exporting operation on the waterfront focusing on the Chinese market.
But while exporting raw logs to China may be a growing business, it creates few jobs in Oregon when compared to milling logs into lumber and then shipping them. In addition, many of the state’s top exporters have shifted manufacturing to China to capitalize on cheap labor. Oregon has lost about 60,000 manufacturing jobs over the past decade. An initiative to boost exports to China won’t necessarily bring those jobs back, but it may create different ones.