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Deputy commerce secretary talks tariffs, exports, jobs at Seattle container facility

Northwest Seaport Alliance hosts Don Graves for roundtable at Terminal 5

The Northwest Seaport Alliance recently hosted Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Graves at the Terminal 5 cargo facility in Seattle. (Photo: Northwest Seaport Alliance)

Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Graves joined Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) officials and other trade stakeholders at a recent roundtable in Seattle to discuss transportation infrastructure funding, lowering tariffs, agriculture exports and job creation in Washington state.

“The Department of Commerce’s mission is to spur and empower entrepreneurs to create good-paying jobs,” Graves said during the discussion Friday after a tour of Terminal 5, according to a press release. “We want our legacy to be a department of people and communities because people and communities drive our economy.”

NWSA is a marine cargo operating partnership between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. While the two ports remain separate organizations and retain ownership of their respective assets, they manage container, breakbulk, auto and several bulk terminals under a development authority.

“There is an important relationship between imports and exports, and the NWSA is glad to support the federal government in identifying solutions to support our gateway, agriculture producers, business and labor, and the broader U.S. economy,” said John Wolfe, CEO of NWSA.

Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Graves, left, talks with officials from the Northwest Seaport Alliance Friday during a tour of Terminal 5 in Seattle. (Photo: Northwest Seaport Alliance)

NWSA handled a total of 307,592 twenty-foot equivalent units in July, an increase of 13.8% compared to July 2020. Year-to-date volumes are up 18.2%.

The Port of Tacoma’s total trade with the world was $3.63 billion in July, while the Port of Seattle registered $2.82 billion, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics analyzed by WorldCity

The Port of Tacoma’s top exports during July were corn, potatoes (prepared or frozen), and hay. Its top three imports were passenger vehicles, motor vehicle parts and toys (children’s bicycles, and games).

The Port of Seattle’s top exports in July were corn, civilian aircraft parts, and potatoes. The top imports were motor vehicle parts, toys and furniture parts.

Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said his organization’s members export 30% of the tree fruit they produce. 

The Yakima, Washington-based Northwest Horticultural Council is a nonprofit trade association that represents the tree fruit (apple, pear and cherry) industry in Idaho, Oregon and Washington on federal and international policy and regulatory matters.

A significant challenge for exporters are tariffs that have reduced the ability to export to certain markets by 80%, Powers said.

“Current supply chain issues are constraining the ability for goods to get to market,” Powers said. “Any help the federal government can provide to support agriculture exports is appreciated by [the council].”

Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho discussed the importance of federal infrastructure

funds and accurately projecting needs for future port growth.

To be good stewards of public dollars, ports want to make key investments that match growing demand, so as to not be left without needed infrastructure or to overinvest and have underutilized capacity in the gateway, Cho said.

Another key topic discussed was workforce development. The pipeline for both the maritime and aviation sectors could soon be at a bottleneck, port officials said.

Graves said the Department of Commerce is partnering with the Labor Department to develop workforce initiatives to support critical parts of the U.S. economy, aiming to get trained and certified individuals, particularly youth, into transportation jobs.

Deputy U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Graves joined Northwest Seaport Alliance, along with other trade officials, for a meeting Friday. Pictured are participants of the meeting at Terminal 5 in Seattle. (Photo: Northwest Seaport Alliance)

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]