This is a critical year for the Washington potato industry as we look to focus our efforts on strengthening our international trade opportunities. We intend to spend the year educating our members of Congress on how the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will expand markets, increase sales and create jobs in Washington. The approval of the TPP is critical in maintaining our strength as an economic driver in the Columbia Basin. We will also work to improve the efficiencies of our sea ports, and improve our highways that move our products over the Cascades to our ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
According to a newly published study by Washington State University, the Washington potato industry creates more than $7.5 billion in economic activity each year and more than 35,000 jobs. Not only do we grow big potatoes here in the Columbia Basin, we also grow big dollars for our economy and thousands of jobs for our residents. The primary reason these numbers are so big is because of the volume of potato and potato products we export. You will find Washington potatoes throughout the Pacific Rim, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and even the Middle East. Approximately 95 percent of our potatoes leave the state and almost 60 percent are headed to international markets.
$7.5 billion in economic activity each year
The TPP is a large trade agreement that will lower the tariffs imposed on Washington produced products. The potato tariff, otherwise known as the tax that countries charge for importing Washington potatoes, can be as high as 20 percent. This makes our potatoes 20 percent more expensive than those from many of our competitors. These import taxes will eventually go to zero and allow us to freely compete with other countries and grow our Pacific Rim markets. Previous tariff reductions in South Korea allowed sales of Washington potatoes to grow by 80 percent. We would expect similar growth in the TPP countries.
The TPP is also the best way to level the playing field for the U.S. It will increase the environmental protections and labor laws of our trading partners. It says, “If you want to do business with the U.S., then you have to protect your environment, strengthen your minimum wage, allow labor to organize, protect children, and increase your food safety.” If it wasn’t for the TPP, it would take decades of negotiations with these countries to achieve these labor and environmental protections.
Trade agreements like the TPP are only part of the way we can continue to maintain and grow our foreign markets. We must also work to improve our transportation infrastructure and the efficiencies of our sea ports. Our potato growers will continue to work with our state and federal leaders to ensure the completion of improvements to Snoqualmie Pass and access to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. We need reliable access to our ports in order for us to be globally competitive.
Washington and the Columbia Basin are the farthest areas from key markets in the highly populated East Coast of the United States. Our businesses struggle to compete with our neighbors like Idaho that have more of a favorable business environment and an obvious freight advantage going east. We must play to our strengths and not our weaknesses. Our strength is the Pacific Rim, and we must do what we can to increase our competitiveness.
It will be all hands on deck for our potato growers as we work to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership, improve our highway infrastructure to the ports, and improve the reliability and efficiency of our sea ports. Washington is the most trade dependent state in the union. We must all work to expand trade if we are to see continued progress in the Columbia Basin.