State trade officials optimistic in spite of economic troubles

A continued recession in Japan, Alaska’s No. 1 trading partner, coupled with U.S. economic troubles could affect the state’s exports in 2002, trade officials said.

The state should tally total 2001 exports that are on par or up less than 1 percent from last year’s total of $2.5 billion, said officials from the state Division of International Trade and Market Development.

"We are relatively optimistic about 2002 exports maintaining a similar level as this year’s," said Greg Wolf, state director of international trade.

In 2001, export figures did not include crude oil, which companies chose to ship to Lower 48 refineries instead, he said. However, a surge in seafood, mineral and fertilizer exports made up for the loss in oil export dollars, he said.

"Looking at the big picture, 2001 was a year that demonstrated resiliency and underlying strength," Wolf said.

However, the Alaska exports in the new year face several challenges.

More than 50 percent of total Alaska exports go to Japan, a country that is still in a recession that doesn’t show signs of a turnaround, Wolf said.

Chuck Becker, director of the Alaska Export Assistance Center, believes Japan and other Asian markets are also struggling.

"Our markets in the Pacific Rim are not healthy at the moment," he said.

The new year should bring activity for Alaska companies working in oil developments on Russia’s Sakhalin Island, he noted. Some Alaska firms have spent several years in that region, and now several oil projects are advancing, he said.

Some seafood exports might not fare well in 2002, Becker said.

"The fishing industry has lost considerable market share due to competition from (fish) farmers. It appears the condition will not change but get worse in the future," he said.

However, pollock and pollock roe exports climbed through third quarter 2001, and total seafood exports were up 21 percent to total $1 billion for the quarter, state trade officials said.

Alaska exports through the third quarter tallied $2 billion, up $7 million from the same period last year, according to state statistics.

Forecasts for 2002 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon returns are down and expected to total 16.8 million, compared with 22 million in 2001, said Rudy Tsukada, state trade office research section chief.

Mineral exports could decline in 2002, influenced by worldwide price decreases, especially for zinc, he said.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm