Washington is in a unique position to benefit from international trade, according to the Washinton Public Ports Assn.

It is equidistant by air from Asia and Europe. It is closer to Asia by water than other West Coast states. It is blessed with deep water harbors and highly productive agricultural lands.

Yet not all of Washington’s ports benefit directly from international trade. Many are not ports in the traditional sense. They do not border on either Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean.

Ports in the state vary because cities decide their functions, as long as they fit in economic development, says Patrick Jones, executive director for Washington Public Ports Association. With 76 ports in the state, 29 have airports, 11 have deep-draft marine terminals, six have shallow-draft ports, 30 have marinas, and 50 have industrial parks.

In addition to 15 Sunmar vessels carrying cargo to the Russian Far East last year, 15.5 million board feet of logs went to Japan in eight vessels. So far this year, with Sunmar gone, 7.2 million board feet of logs have been exported, says Olympia’s deputy Port Director Wendy Holden.

The Port would like to see 40 million to 80 million board feet of logs pass through its docks each year, says Port Director Nick Handy. Tthe Port’s most promising short-term trading prospect is Japan, he says, but over the long haul, it’s China.

“It’s a huge market, and, as the economy grows, they’re going to need wood but don’t have a local supply,” Handy says. “They’ve had flooding, and the government is cutting back on logging.”

Australia, New Zealand and Russia are the Port’s competitors, Handy says. The advantage here is that Washington produces higher quality Douglas fir than its competitors, he says.

A wish list of transportation improvements in Pierce County, meanwhile, could further enhance Tacoma’s stature among international shippers by improving its ability to get goods off its docks and on to markets throughout the United States and from the United States to the docks and onto ships bound for foreign markets.

Why all the fuss?

In a typical year, Washington produces more than $36 billion in exports, primarily in the categroies of services (legal, financial and architectural, for example), software, high tech, agriculture, seafood, apples and forest products.

Export-related jobs represented 31 percent of the total increase in positions in the state from 1963 to 1995, expanding twice as fast as non-trade employment.

International trade supports a fourth of the state’s workforce, nearly 740,000 water and salary workers and proprietors—one in four jobs in the state is tied to foreign exports and earns an about 46 percent more than the state average.

By 2005, foreign markets are expected to account for 42 percent of the state’s external sales, meaning one out of every three jobs will be directly or indirectly supported by overseas trade.

Foreign exports directly or indirectly account for 23.8 percent of Washington’s gross state product.

Despite the fact that the state represents only about 2 percent of the nation’s population, its ports handle 7 percent of all U.S. exports and receive a 6 percent share of the nation’s imports.Washington is now the fourth largest exporting state in the nation, behind California, Texas and New York.

Tacoma/Seattle is the second largest container load center in the nation behind Los Angeles/Long Beach—but ahead of New York/New Jersey.

Where’s all this trade bound for?

Despite Washington’s proximity to Asia, the bulk of it heads for the European Union, nearly $9 billion worth in a typical year, then Japan, $6.7 billion; Canada, $3 billion; Korea, 2.5 billion; China, $1.9 billion; Taiwan, $1.7 billion; Malaysia, $1.4 billion; Singapore, $1.4 billion; Saudi Arabia, $1.2 billion; Thailand, $1 billion; and all others, $6.4 billion.