My Turn: From a 'sucked orange' to ripe for the picking

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007

The State Department has long played a big role in Alaska's history, starting with Secretary of State William Seward's much criticized negotiation of the territory's purchase from Russia in 1867. I have always found New York Tribune editor Horace Greely's 1867 description of the Alaska territory as a "sucked orange" the most amusing of all the purchase criticisms. Alaskans know their history well, and we all feel a justifiable pride every Seward's Day as we savor the delicious irony of "Seward's Folly." As an Alaskan serving in the Department of State, I am honored to continue working toward a secure future for Alaska.

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Over the years, Alaskans have made large contributions to our country. This has been most obvious in Alaska's energy sector, which provides more than 14 percent of the nation's total crude oil production. Once again, Alaskans have a historic opportunity to bolster America's energy and economic future with clean burning natural gas.

Just as the State Department stood with Alaska in 1867, you now have our commitment to stand with you to secure whatever agreements are required to move Alaska gas through Canada. Under the federal memorandum of understanding to streamline federal approval of a pipeline, the State Department would serve as lead negotiator for side letters or agreements with the government of Canada, or for modifications to several existing agreements that pertain to Alaska natural gas transportation projects.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented level of interconnectedness, and U.S. leadership has never been more important. In addition to strong leadership on energy security, the Bush administration has pursued a free trade and open skies policy that has also benefited Alaska.

Since 2001, the U.S. Congress has approved Free Trade Agreements with 13 countries, most recently with Peru. Let me mention two examples of how a recently negotiated FTA has already benefited this "sucked orange." Alaska's exports to Chile have quadrupled to $23 million in 2006 since our FTA with Chile began in 2004. Likewise, the state's exports to Singapore have doubled since our FTA with Singapore began in the same year.

There are three pending Free Trade Agreements awaiting ratification by Congress - Colombia, Panama, and South Korea - which will further bring economic benefit to Alaska. The U.S.-South Korea FTA will eliminate tariffs on Alaskan seafood and wood products, some as high as 60 percent. Last year Alaska's exports to South Korea totaled $726 million, half of which were in seafood products. The elimination of high tariffs and low quotas on salmon, roe, shellfish and pollock will undoubtedly lead to even greater exports to Korea. The Panama FTA will offer tremendous opportunities for Alaska's exporters. In addition to lowering tariffs on Alaska exports, the Panama FTA will ensure that Alaska's firms can participate on a competitive basis in the $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion project. Alaska will also benefit from the FTA with Colombia, since most of the tariffs on one of its top exports - chemicals - will be immediately reduced to zero with the rest phased-out over 10 years.

In 1867, Secretary Seward had tremendous foresight to recognize the value of the Alaska territory and that the timing for the purchase of it would never be better. Ever since then, Alaskans have had to exhibit the same foresight and entrepreneurial spirit to secure their livelihoods and prosperity. This administration has worked hard to help Alaskans cultivate a bountiful future by working to increase America's and Alaska's competitiveness across many industrial sectors.

• Daniel Sullivan is assistant secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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