Tri-City event promotes world trade awareness

KENNEWICK -- International trade is critical to the fortunes of Mid-Columbia growers and business owners and all who work for them, several speakers told participants in a kickoff event Wednesday to promote awareness about world trade.

Washington's economy derived about $78 billion in 2008 from exporting manufactured goods, services and agricultural products. That business also created hundreds of thousands of Washington jobs.

Those facts make it imperative for the U.S. to promote free trade with other nations, said Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association. He was one of many speakers at the launch of the inaugural World Trade Month Awareness Campaign in Kennewick.

Leaders at local, regional, state and national levels need to understand the importance of breaking down trade barriers, promoting cooperation and staying engaged with other nations, said Colin Hastings, vice president of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the program.

Agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea are awaiting congressional approval, said Hastings and DeVaney, highlighting their importance for U.S. trade.

Washington exports 33 percent of its apples, 28 percent of its cherries and 30 percent of its pears, DeVaney said.

"Mexico is our No. 1 destination for tree fruit," he said.

Washington lost millions of dollars last year when Mexico imposed a 20 percent tariff on more than 90 U.S. agricultural and industrial products in retaliation for the U.S. ending a pilot project that allowed Mexican truckers on U.S. highways beyond border areas.

"We need to liberalize trade policies," DeVaney said.

Kennewick-based Infinia designs and manufactures its solar power generator in the U.S. and is trying to find markets for the generator in Europe, the Middle East, China and India. Access to foreign markets is crucial for that, said Jason Modrell, Infinia's director for development programs and government relations.

Lampson International of Kennewick also relies on export of its huge cranes to keep people employed in the community, said Bryan Pepin-Donat, the firm's director of contract/international business. Lampson exports to Europe, Indonesia and has recently developed markets in China, he said.

"Our business is growing and free trade is essential," he said.

That's also true for Washington's wine industry, said Heather Unwin, vice president of marketing at Terra Blanca Winery.

The rise of middle classes in developing countries is creating demand for Washington wines, known for their quality and affordable prices, she said. "Wine is a global product."

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541;