As summer turns to fall and farmers wrap up their harvests, the changing season is a good reminder about the importance of trade and infrastructure for Washington’s economy.
Apple growers in Wenatchee and Yakima, wheat growers on the Palouse, mid-Columbia potato growers, and Washington’s celebrated wine industry all rely on export markets to grow their business.
Washington is the most trade-driven state in the nation per-capita, with more than 40 percent of our jobs connected in some way to trade. Manufactured goods make up 82 percent of our state’s exports and Washington is the third-largest exporter of food and agriculture products in the country.
That’s why it’s critically important that Congress and the presidential administration renew the charter for the Export-Import Bank, which is set to expire at the end of September.
The Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal agency that provides export credit to overseas purchasers of U.S. goods and services. It contributes to the economy by supporting American jobs, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. Since 2000, the Ex-Im Bank has provided nearly $15 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
In the last decade, 180 Washington companies have used the Ex-Im Bank to bring their products to foreign markets. Small business transactions made up 76 percent of Washington’s Ex-Im use. Last year alone, Washington employers did more than $200 million in Ex-Im backed trade deals.
Four years ago, the little-known bank — which has been around for more than 80 years — became the subject of a rare political debate in Congress. Fortunately, the bank’s charter was eventually renewed in 2015 after a concerted effort, but now it’s time to renew it again.
It’s also critical that Congress pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. Doing so will give manufacturers the certainty they need to continue trading with two of our most important partners. The agreement, which updates the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, was agreed to last fall but is still pending approval in Congress.
Finally, we know that growers and manufacturers rely on a safe, efficient transportation network to get their goods to market. A report published this spring by the Association of Washington Business and the associations representing the state’s cities, ports, and counties outlined more than $222 billion in needed infrastructure spending throughout Washington. That includes $147 billion for highways and roads and $5.7 billion for marine ports.
Last month, infrastructure investment, the USMCA, and the Ex-Im Bank were among the topics discussed at the Federal Affairs Summit organized by the Association of Washington Business. The event — held at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the Tri-Cities — featured U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, and U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-WA Dist. 1; Derek Kilmer, D-WA Dist. 6; Dan Newhouse, R-WA Dist. 4; and Kim Schrier, D-WA Dist. 8.
It was encouraging to hear the issues discussed. We know that federal officials understand the importance of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and we’re optimistic they will act soon. Every dollar invested in infrastructure generates $1.50 in economic output, making it a solid investment. We know that Washington’s economy has a global reach. More than $79 billion worth of goods move through Washington’s ports annually, including hundreds of millions made possible by the Ex-Im Bank.
Historically, infrastructure investment and the Ex-Im Bank have received bipartisan support. Leaders from both parties understood the importance of infrastructure for the health of our communities, and they understood the role the Ex-Im Bank plays in enabling foreign customers to purchase U.S. goods and services.
For the sake of Washington’s economy, it’s vital these issues continue to enjoy this kind of support. International trade drives Washington’s economy, and a strong economy is not a partisan issue.
Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.