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NDTO News Article

Editorial: Exports spur N.D. economy

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
Published Sunday, September 23, 2007

The expansion of export trade from North Dakota has gone hand-in-hand with the relaxation of trade barriers and tariffs. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports North Dakota increased export sales 27 percent in 2006, nearly twice the national average of 15 percent.

When converted to dollars, the totals for North Dakota are impressive: nearly $1.6 billion. Most surprising (although not to North Dakota business involved in foreign trade), the largest slice of the trade pie is machinery manufacturing, accounting for 54.4 percent of sales in 2006, or slightly more than $817 million.

We hope Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has been paying attention. He’s never been a fan of free trade zones and treaties.

Trade agreements, including NAFTA and the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, have made the difference, say people directly involved in selling across international borders. Since a free trade zone was established in 1994, North Dakota’s trade with Canada has doubled. Similar trade agreements with Australia and Mexico have doubled North Dakota’s export sales to those countries. Ever-increasing export sales to Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Italy, Belgium, Germany and other nations have also shown healthy increases, due in large part to aggressive North Dakota entrepreneurs working with trade experts from the North Dakota Trade Office.

Manufacturing leads export sales, but value-added crops and processed foods comprise a major component of trade – more than 20 percent of the 2006 total, or more than $210 million.

This is big stuff. It means jobs and a stronger, more diverse economy in North Dakota. It means the state depends on world markets to keep its economy resilient enough to weather the vagaries of agriculture and the uncertainties of the global energy market.

Trade agreements – both bilateral pacts and continental treaties – are vital. Lower trade barriers and tariffs enable North Dakota to participate fully in the international flow of goods and services.

Not everyone is as enamored of trade agreements as North Dakota’s industrial and agri-business traders clearly are. Sen. Dorgan has been reluctant to embrace trade agreements, contending “free trade” is not always “fair trade.” While that’s an effective sound bite, the benefits of trade agreements to North Dakota have been confirmed by the growth of exports from the state. Pending U.S. bilateral trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia hold enormous potential for North Dakota businesses and farms.

No trade agreement is without flaw. But the measurable results of recent trade pacts demonstrate that the benefits for North Dakota’s economy – and people – far outweigh the downside.

Today’s issue:

North Dakota exports growing at a rate faster than the national average.

Our position:

The lowering of trade barriers and tariffs has been good for the state’s economy.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.