Governor to travel abroad, tout Washington products
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- When Gov. Chris Gregoire heads to Asia Sept. 30, she will be the first Washington governor to lead a trade mission to India.
"As India's economy thrives, we know that consumers there are seeking more imported products from the United States," she said. "This is our opportunity to get out in front and make sure that consumers and businesses in India are aware of the quality items produced in Washington state."
Agriculture, high-tech and biotech innovation will be the topics of the 10-day mission, both in India and in South Korea.
Jason Kelly, communications director at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said tariff issues and trade barriers will be discussed in both countries.
Gregoire will meet with Indian government officials to discuss the high tariffs placed on Washington agricultural products in an effort to get them reduced and help expand agricultural markets.
Matt Harris of the Washington Potato Commission will be part of the trade mission.
"As the new food frontier, India offers promise for Washington potato growers," he said. "Unfortunately, a confusing matrix of import tariffs and arbitrary duties on U.S. frozen french fries prohibits trade opportunities. ... If we're ever going to crack the India market in a big way, we need transparency and a level playing field."
In 2011, India was Washington's 24th-largest export market for goods. For the first six months of this year, exports have grown to nearly $350 million, up more than 26 percent from June 2011.
The state's apple industry views India as one of the most promising growth markets, with annual Washington apple sales already reaching $60 million.
Mark Powers, of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said the average Indian eats about one apple a month. "That's very low by global standards, and we know we can do better. Imagine what we could do if Washington apples weren't subject to a 50 percent import duty.
"Washington orchards are India's favorite suppliers of imported apples," he said. "We've already won that battle against our foreign competitors."
India also imports wine, pears, peaches and lentils from Washington.
Gregoire will visit Korea at the request of Korea's president, who extended a personal invitation during a visit to Washington last fall. Gregoire will be one of the first U.S. governors to lead a trade mission to Korea since the signing of the U.S-Korea Free Trade Agreement in March.
Passage of the agreement resulted in the immediate elimination of the 18 percent tariff on U.S. frozen potatoes. In 2011, more than $36 million in frozen potato products were exported through Washington ports to Korea.
While in Korea, Gregoire will visit a Costco to promote Washington foods and a Popeye's restaurant, where she'll serve Washington-grown french fries to customers.
Travel costs for state government officials are covered by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, so there is no cost to Washington state taxpayers, Kelly said.
"Payoffs to these trade missions has been tremendous," he said. "If we can open doors to Washington state producers, it will pay us back for years to come."
The governor will post a journal of the trade mission at her official website: www.governor.wa.gov