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How a South Korean trade pact would impact the Northwest

The free-trade agreement is getting close, though the politics is still divisive. Here's a look at how strong are the trade bonds between the Northwest and this Asian tiger, and it's far more than jetliners.

Cranes at the Port of Seattle.

Cranes at the Port of Seattle. Chuck Taylor

In his State of the Union address in January 2010, President Obama set out the broad outlines of a national initiative to double exports by 2015 and in the process create jobs. Expanding trade is part of the administration’s larger economic recovery program that also includes infrastructure, clean energy, education, and innovation. The president plans to provide more detail on these efforts in a major speech next month.

As a highly trade-dependent state, Washington has a keen interest in the debate over pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama. The South Korean trade agreement, KORUS, is the most significant of the three given South Korea’s $1 trillion economy and 50 million people. Several current and one former Washington elected representatives have been active in pushing for its ratification.

The U.S. currently has 11 FTAs with 17 countries, the most recent being the US-Jordan agreement that was fully implemented in January 2010. In 2010, 41 percent of U.S. goods exported went to FTA partner countries, and those exports were growing at a slightly faster rate than exports to the rest of the world.

Currently U.S. trade with South Korea is substantial but in deficit. South Korea is our seventh-largest trading partner, and we are South Korea’s third-largest trading partner. In 2010, we exported goods valued at $38 billion compared to imports of $48 billion. This imbalance has been in the range of $10-15 billion for the last decade but is a small part of the total U.S. trade deficit which was $500 billion in 2010.

In contrast, Washington state’s trade with South Korea is in surplus. South Korea was fourth on the list of destination countries for exports from Washington in 2010 after China, Japan, and Canada. Commodities with a value of $2.7 billion went to South Korea via Washington. South Korea was the fifth largest source of commodities imported into the state with a value of $1.6 billion. Larger sources of imports were Canada, China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Not surprisingly, a large export category is civilian aircraft, engines and parts. South Korea has long been a major Boeing customer. Korean Air, a privately held airline, operates predominately Boeing planes, as does Asiana, another Korean airline. Korean Air has recently purchased both passenger and freighter model 747-8’s, Boeing’s largest plane. Boeing also sells military aircraft to South Korea.

These numbers come with a caveat since the actual origins of exports and imports by state are often hard to identify. The accounting is especially a problem when a coastal state is the entry and exit point for goods that are destined or originate in other states. Washington state is a significant gateway for bi-lateral trade; one estimate is that three-fourths of the state’s trade is produced and consumed elsewhere. But goods that pass through our ports from and to other states obviously contribute to Washington’s economy.

An example is the movement of Kia vehicles through the Port of Tacoma. In July of this year the one millionth Kia made in South Korea, a hybrid, was off-loaded at the port. Most of these vehicles are destined for dealers across the country.

Similarly, some agricultural commodities produced in other states are included in export data. Wheat is a good example, since wheat and other grains from as far away as Iowa pass through our ports. And some products made in Washington contain components that have been imported. For example, Korean Air manufactures parts for the 747-8 and other Boeing commercial planes.

Trade in services is even harder to assign to states by origin and destination. But we do know that the export of services is a growing proportion of all national exports and enjoys a positive trade balance — $145 billion in 2010. Washington state, with its concentration of software, telecommunications, transportation, and tourism companies clearly contributes to this favorable balance.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Sep 1, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"Free Trade" agreements are bunk. A better term would be "move your job offshore agreements". Tariffs are designed to even the playing field. If a company dumps all it's waste into the air in a country which allows it, vs being constrained here in the USA, where do you think that stuff is ultimately going to end up? Yep, it's the same air we all breath.

GaryP

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