Alaska’s exports in 2000 totaled $2.5 billion, down 3.9 percent from $2.6 billion in 1999, and the state’s export value for this year could face some obstacles, trade officials said.
The 2000 dollar value of Alaska exports to foreign countries slipped compared with 1999 figures for seven of the state’s top 10 trading partners, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The drop is mostly due to the shipment of Alaska crude oil to West Coast refineries rather than foreign countries, according to the state Division of International Trade and Market Development.
"We expect that trend to continue and accelerate in 2001," said Greg Wolf, director of the Division of International Trade and Market Development. However, the change affects the statistics rather than the Alaska economy. "The state still receives royalties and people are still employed" in the oil and gas industry, he said.
Crude oil exports dropped 42 percent in 2000, totaling $288 million. Crude oil falls in the category of Alaska’s No. 2 export, oil and gas, which overall dropped last year to $571.7 million, down from $722.3 million in 1999.
Another reason for the total export value decrease in 2000 was a production decrease at Red Dog Mine, a requirement for installation of a new system expected to increase production later this year, Wolf said.
The No. 3 Alaska export, minerals, dropped from $358.6 million in 1999 to $292.9 million in 2000. The fourth place Alaska export, wood products, also declined from 1999’s total of $222.5 million to $209.5 million in 2000. Fertilizer, Alaska’s No. 5 export, posted gains, climbing from $112.8 million in 1999 to $154 million in 2000.
Exports to Alaska’s top trading partner, Japan, totaled $1.3 billion in 2000, down 1.1 percent from 1999 data. Last year Japan was the destination for 53 percent of all Alaska exports, statistics noted.
Second-place export destination South Korea accounted for 18.2 percent of all Alaska exports. Alaska exports to Korea dropped 7.8 percent, totaling $448.6 million, down from $486.7 million in 1999.
"I am encouraged by the strength of our traditional top two markets, Japan and Korea," Wolf said, calling export results from the two countries stable.
However, the trade office is monitoring the Japanese economy and the strength of its currency, he said. "What happens in Japan matters to Alaska exports," he said.
Demand for Alaska exports in Asia could be affected by the health of the economy there, he said.
The future for Japan is a growing concern for Chuck Becker, director of the U.S. Commercial Service Alaska Export Assistance Center. "Japan has been in a fiscal funk for 10 years," he said.
Since Japan is the leading buyer of Alaska products, any major upset there could affect the state’s exports, he said.
Another factor that could impact Alaska would be declines in oil and natural gas prices, he said.
Becker also is concerned that Alaska’s fishing industry continues to lose market share to farmed fish. However, Europeans steering away from beef and other meats could turn to Alaska seafood, boosting that sector, he said.
"They will be looking for foodstuffs that are healthy and free of contaminants," he said. Farmed fish from nearby Scotland and Norway could still trump Alaska fish, he added.
For 2001 Wolf expects some drawbacks for Alaska’s export totals. BP said it will not export crude oil from Alaska this year, instead opting for other refineries, a change that could account for a loss of several hundred million dollars of Alaska exports, he said.
Seafood exports could be affected by possible restrictions to the pollock, cod and mackerel fisheries due to Steller sea lion protection plans and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s forecast for a smaller sockeye run, Wolf said.
However, he is optimistic about a growing interest in Alaska seafood from European buyers. Wolf believes that while statistics may decline, small- and medium-sized Alaska exporters may find opportunities around the globe.
Alaska’s top export, seafood, climbed last year from $989.5 million in 1999 to $1 billion in 2000. Seafood accounted for 42 percent of all Alaska exports last year.
Chris McDowell of Juneau tracks statistics for Alaska seafood, specializing in salmon. He is program manager for the Salmon Market Information Service, which also provides data to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
One aspect of salmon exports, salmon roe, posted gains in 2000, he noted. From July to December last year Alaska exports of salmon roe totaled $90 million, up from $56 million for the same period in 1999, he said. Last year more than 90 percent of salmon roe was sent to Japan, McDowell said.
Another key Alaska salmon sector is sockeye, which typically accounts for two-thirds of the salmon harvest, he said. The export destination of sockeye has changed in recent years, McDowell said.
"In 1997 we were sending 72 percent of sockeye to Japan," compared to last year’s total of 54 percent of sockeye shipped to Japan, he said. Also in 2000, Alaska shipped 23 percent of sockeye to the European Union and 18 percent to Canada, he said.
One indicator of the 2001 market, McDowell said, is the movement of frozen salmon inventory levels in Japan. Earlier this year frozen salmon inventory levels were down 10 percent from the same period last year, he said. However, salmon imports there also were down slightly, he noted.
Another factor for Alaska salmon in Japan is a new requirement by Japanese retailers that salmon be labeled as wild or farmed, he said. "It is not clear what impact this will have on Alaska."