Why Washingtonians should care more about trade

The Seattle Times, Blanca Torres, 11/12/14 –

Most people don’t think much about trade. Sure, we all know the goods we buy at the store had to come from somewhere, but do most people stop and think about where that somewhere is or how the movement happened? Probably not often.

I spent several hours Monday hearing from a variety of experts, business executives and politicians (including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray), discuss the role of trade in Washington and how to strengthen what is a vital industry in the state. The Washington Trade Conference pulled together a few hundred people who care, and know, a lot about trade.

Let’s face it, trade isn’t the most riveting topic. But, here is a juicy tidbit gleaned from the conference: In Washington, about 40 percent of jobs are related to trade. That means close to 850,000 jobs in the state involve production of goods from apples to airplanes as well as transportation, handling and shipping of goods to other states or countries.

A common theme many speakers touched on was a lack of public awareness of the trade industry’s prominence in Washington and the fact that the state is a major international player. Our top five biggest trading partners include Canada, China, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

The reason this matters is because 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States and 80 percent of the world’s buying power exists beyond our borders.

At Boeing, the largest private employer in Washington, about three-quarters of the planes the company makes go to other countries, where demand for air travel is growing much faster than in the U.S. Another major Washington employer, Amazon.com, depends on trade on a local, national and international scale.

Washington can continue benefiting from the trade industry. Our globalized world relies on constant exchange of goods, services and ideas. The question is how can individual players, like the state of Washington or companies based here, make the most from trade and not be left behind. The good news is that hundreds of people, including those who attended the trade conference Monday, are on the case.

Perhaps trade doesn’t spark attention or enthusiasm in most Washington residents, but it should. As a state, our policies should help facilitate trade such as supporting the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, investing in infrastructure to make it easier to move goods and hammering out trade agreements to make sure we can keep growing our economy.