Op-Ed: Whatcom County trade ties with New Zealand, Australia grow

Mar 9, 2011

Bellingham Herald Op-Ed

By U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen

I recently returned from a trip to New Zealand and Australia that was productive and tragic. On Tuesday, Feb. 22, a deadly earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, killing nearly 200 people and damaging countless buildings.

Our delegation had left Christchurch two hours before the earthquake struck. My trip was initially focused on ways to expand the trading relationships between the U.S. and New Zealand and the U.S. and Australia and explore how we can help small and medium-sized businesses here in Whatcom County export more of their products to New Zealand and Australia and create jobs here at home. While I continued to focus on this issue, my colleagues and I also took time to remember those who lost their lives or loved ones during the earthquake.

Most are aware of Washington state's strong ties to the larger countries in Asia, such as China, Japan, and Korea. However, Washington, and particularly Whatcom County, also has strong ties with New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand and Australia are critical to U.S. interests in the Pacific region - and to the Washington economy. According to the Washington Department of Commerce, since 2004, Washington exports to Australia saw a 35 percent growth including airplanes, forklifts and natural vitamins.

And during the last year, state exports to New Zealand grew by 26 percent including potatoes, batteries and static converters. A number of small and medium-sized businesses here in Whatcom have strong relationships with New Zealand and Australia. Both countries serve as important markets for many of our small businesses and help create jobs here in Whatcom County.

An example of this is Wood Stone Corp., based here in Bellingham. While in Wellington, New Zealand, I ate at Osteria del Toro - a restaurant in downtown Wellington. While there, I helped bake a pizza in an oven that was manufactured by the people at Wood Stone Corp. This is a win-win for New Zealand and the U.S. They get to eat great pizza, and jobs are created here in Bellingham.

There are other examples of Whatcom County companies engaging overseas with New Zealand and Australia. Cascade Dafo in Ferndale sells pediatric braces throughout New Zealand. Bellingham Marine calculates it has worked on 350 separate projects in New Zealand, from repair work to construction of new marinas. All American Marine, a leading manufacturer of high-speed passenger ferries, excursion vessels and work boats, is supplied with waterjets from Hamilton Jet - a company in Christchurch - and purchases Beurteaux marine seating from Henderson, Australia, and Dampa marine ceiling tiles from Glengarry, Australia, to be used in manufacturing by American workers in Fairhaven.

Despite success stories, challenges exist with these trading relationships as well. During my visit, I expressed my concerns while meeting with New Zealand and Australian government officials. As the U.S. negotiates a trade agreement with both New Zealand and Australia - called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) - there are concerns from our dairy farmers that low-priced New Zealand dairy products could have negative impacts on U.S. dairies.

According to an analysis provided by the National Milk Producers Federation, gross revenues received by U.S. dairy farmers could drop by a total of $20 billion over the first 10 years of the agreement if the proposed TPP were to fully eliminate all tariffs on U.S.-New Zealand dairy trade.

Additionally there are concerns about apple and wine imports to New Zealand and Australia, and I raised these concerns as well.

The U.S. has strong relationships with New Zealand and Australia and this is seen in the partnerships between Whatcom County small businesses and those in New Zealand and Australia. I look forward to exploring ways to build on this solid foundation to help our small businesses export more of their products overseas and create jobs here in Whatcom County.