Slumping dollar helps exporters

Japanese can pay more for Alaska salmon

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE - The sinking dollar is lifting the fortunes of some Alaska exporters.

While the weaker dollar means less buying power for companies that import foreign goods, it is good news for companies in the business of exporting Alaska commodities such as fish, fertilizer and minerals. When foreign currencies strengthen, it means buyers in Tokyo, London, Seoul or Frankfurt can buy more U.S. goods with each yen, pound or euro.

"It's a very good time for American fishermen, farmers and loggers," said Terry Gardiner, president of NorQuest Seafoods of Seattle.

Since early this year, most key currencies have strengthened significantly against the dollar. The Japanese yen is about 12 percent stronger, the British pound 8 percent and the European euro 12 percent.

By country, Japan is the most important buyer of Alaska exports, accounting for 44 percent in 2001. Canada was next with 8 percent.

Japan's economy remains mired in recession, but South Korea, an increasingly valuable Alaska trading partner, has a strong economy and currency, said Greg Wolf, director of the state Division of International Trade and Market Development. South Korea is a primary importer of ammonia and urea from the Agrium fertilizer plant at Kenai, he said.

Gunnar Knapp, an economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said while the yen has shown a dramatic rise over the past few months, the increase offsets a steep decline that began last fall.

"Thus, basically, we aren't much better off than we were a year ago," Knapp said.

Still, Gardiner of NorQuest said he's glad the yen is stronger because the Japanese can pay more for Alaska red salmon and other fish.

That in itself won't help Alaska seafood producers because the Japanese could choose to spend their money on competing goods, such as farmed salmon from Chile.

"It's not like an instant cash register," Gardiner said. "You still have to go out and make it happen."

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