Oregon’s Foreign Exports Increased, But Not to China

by Erik Knoder

February 11, 2019

Thanks to its coastal location, Oregon has a history of exporting valuable products to foreign markets. From Captain Robert Gray exporting furs to China in the late 1700s to millions of board feet of Port Orford cedar exported to Japan in the 1960s, exports have been a big part of Oregon's economy. The total value of Oregon’s foreign exports reached $21.9 billion in 2017.

The current records for exports go back to 1999. In that year, Oregon exported about $10.5 billion worth of goods. Exports grew moderately until 2006, when their value jumped by roughly $3 billion to $15.3 billion. The biggest increase was to China, but Canada, Costa Rica, and Malaysia also increased purchases.

Exports fell in 2009 during the Great Recession, but have been climbing since then with the exception of a small decline in 2015 after Intel closed its microprocessor assembly plant in Costa Rica.

In 2017, the state shipped nearly $21.9 billion of commodities to a host of foreign buyers, and increase of about 0.6 percent from the previous year. (By comparison, foreign imports to Oregon were about $18.3 billion in 2017.) Asian countries are major players on Oregon's roster of international customers. China has been the largest ($3.9 billion in 2017) single recipient of Oregon's commodities since 2013, though exports to China dropped by 32 percent from the previous year. Canada received the second-highest value ($2.3 billion) of shipments from the state in 2017, followed closely by Malaysia ($2.3 billion), and South Korea was the fourth-largest ($2.0 billion) recipient of Oregon’s exports.

Data about foreign exports get plenty of attention in an economy that's increasingly going global. And because export data come from customs records required for cross-border shipments they're detailed and fairly current, and compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparison, data on domestic shipments are sparse: the most recent figures, released in 2014, come from the 2012 Economic Census. But don't let the domestic data's more limited detail and availability fool you. In 2012, Oregon shipped goods worth more than $147 billion to domestic buyers. That was roughly $52 billion in products that traveled around the state, $28 billion to Washington, $27 billion shipped to California and nearly $40 billion to other states. Clearly, Oregon has valuable trade networks both at home and overseas, but domestic customers are by far the largest source of sales.

Export Commodities

The major export commodities generally reflected Oregon's major industries. In 2017, Oregon exported about $8.8 billion in computer and electronics, $3.8 billion in non-electrical machinery, $2.2 billion in chemicals, and nearly $1.9 billion in agricultural products to foreign countries. The stated value of exported chemicals may be slightly misleading: a significant portion of the value is from the export of potash that is mined in Canada and shipped by rail to Portland for export.

Exports and Employment 

The International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau jointly estimate the employment supported by foreign exports of goods. According to their estimates, international exports of goods from Oregon supported 87,023 jobs in 2016, the most recent year available. Manufactured goods supported 95 percent of these jobs. Not all these jobs were necessarily located in Oregon, but they were created by exports from Oregon.

Unfortunately, data that link domestic shipments to their impact on Oregon jobs aren't readily available. Because the value of domestic shipments dwarfs the international figure, however, it's reasonable to assume that domestic manufacturing support a larger number of Oregon jobs than do foreign-bound goods.

How to Find Export Data

The Census Bureau reports and tables on commodity flows are available at www.census.gov/. Follow the links to the Economic Census then to state data and commodity flow.

Data users should read the general information in the report to learn more about the numbers. For example, the data cover shipments by portions of the mining industry, almost all of the manufacturing sector, all of wholesale trade, and catalog and mail-order retail businesses. They don't include the value of purchases by tourists from other states or interstate trade in services.

International trade and jobs data are available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Association via Trade Stats Express at https://www.trade.gov/index.asp.

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