BOISE — Exports contributed nearly $4 billion to Idaho’s economy in 2017. Though tariff wars with trade partners over the past year have hit some Idaho producers’ profits, overall exports are strong, and heads of Idaho’s foreign trade offices see opportunities on the horizon such as exporting hops for craft beer in the Asian market.
Idaho’s foreign trade office heads from Mexico, Asia and China presented to the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday on the state’s current trade climate.
So far in fiscal year 2018, Idaho hit $3.3 billion in exports, with an expectation of hitting $4 billion in the last few months of the fiscal year, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Small companies made up 80 percent of exporters, highlighting how vital locally based businesses are for the state economy.
“I can’t over emphasize how important exports are for the state of Idaho,” said Celia Gould, agriculture department director.
The state’s top two export locations continue to be Canada and Mexico, making up 25 percent of all exports and 46 percent of food and agriculture exports.
Last year, Idaho lost millions at the hands of retaliatory tariffs from Mexico. Idaho producers lost an estimated $15.4 million in potato exports under the imposed 20 percent tariff, $14.4 million in cheese and whey due to the 25 percent tariff, and $1.1 million in export revenue from pork and ham due to the added 20 percent tariff, said Fabiola McClellan, head of the Mexico City-based foreign trade office.
Yet overall exports to Mexico — Idaho’s second-largest trade partner — have stayed steady, she said. But the office is looking forward to the tariffs being removed to see “true growth.”
“We are very relieved to see that the numbers have somehow remained even,” said McClellan. “And a lot of that is due to hardworking Idaho companies. … We need to protect our market down there very carefully.”
According to the department’s data, in 2017, 50 percent of Idaho’s wheat was exported internationally, along with one in six rows of potatoes.
To put how large Idaho’s production really is, said Gould, if we didn’t export any food, every Idahoan would have to eat 180 slices of bread, 43 potatoes and 2 pounds of cheese each day to consume the state’s production.
“The bottom line is we have to be looking at international markets for growth of our industries…” said Gould. “International trade is critically important to our state and to agriculture.”
Foreign trade and exports for Idaho are driven by trade offices in Mexico, Taiwan and China — whose office heads navigate new markets, identify industry partners and connect Idaho businesses to the rest of the world.
On Thursday, foreign trade office heads Tara Qu from China and Eddie Yen from Taiwan detailed export growth in both their markets and an upcoming potential to tap into a new market for hops.
China is Idaho’s third-largest trade partner. From January to October 2018 the market totaled $357.1 million in revenue with top exports being semiconductors and industrial equipment, said Qu. She noted an increase in demand for fertilizers and pesticides and chemical exports.
The first 10 months of 2018 for exports to Asia surpassed all of 2017 exports, according to Yen. Main growth areas for the Asian market include semiconductors and industrial machinery, fabricated metal and food products.
Yen also mentioned top export prospects for Idaho in the Asian market include hops for craft beer, communication products, dairy ingredients, wheat, potato products and other agricultural products such as apples, cherries, hummus and wine.
Several successful trade agreements were made in 2018, said Yen, such as cherries to Vietnam from Symms Fruit Ranch in Caldwell, hops from Parma’s Mill 95 to Taiwan, engineered lumber from Boise Cascade to Malaysia and alfalfa from Driscoll TopHay to Vietnam.
The meeting ended with testimony from Idaho companies that have benefited from the partnership with the foreign trade offices.
Jay Theiler, executive director of marketing for Agri Beef, headquartered in Boise, said that his company’s work with Idaho’s foreign trade office heads has made an unprecedented difference in the success of their business worldwide.
“(The foreign offices) are really strategic partners,” he said, “and we view them as an extension of our staff in many ways.”
Theiler said the foreign offices are their “eyes and ears on the ground” in a growing and fruitful international market.
“The rest of the world is growing in prosperity and they want to buy ag products,” he said. “They want to buy ag products from here. And that’s really good.”