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Originally published Thursday, September 22, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Strike concerns Japanese suppliers

While wooing Japanese aerospace suppliers to set up shop in Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire is getting questions about the Machinists...

Seattle Times business reporter

While wooing Japanese aerospace suppliers to set up shop in Washington state, Gov. Christine Gregoire is getting questions about the Machinists strike at Boeing.

Gregoire, on the first leg of an 11-day trade mission to Japan and China, said on a conference call from Tokyo that supplier Fuji Heavy Industries expressed concern about the strike's potential to slow down its production.

Fuji builds the center wing box that attaches the wings to the fuselage of each 767 and 777 and has been contracted to do the same for Boeing's new 787.

"None of them wants to lose orders because of a delay or have to suspend operations," Gregoire said.

She says she is monitoring the situation from overseas and hopes to encourage both sides to come back to the bargaining table.

"This strike is not good for Machinists, for Boeing, for the state of Washington," Gregoire said. "It's not good around the world where there are suppliers to Boeing."

Gregoire met with four Japanese aerospace suppliers tapped to work on the 787 — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Fuji and Jamco — in an effort to persuade them to expand operations in Washington state.

She also talked with a representative of Toray Composites, which has a large manufacturing plant in Tacoma that will supply the carbon-fiber based raw materials to build the wings and fuselage of the 787.

Gregoire agreed to send another delegation to Japan by the end of the year to answer questions about expanding in Washington. The suppliers asked about the state's education system, technical work force and transportation, she said.

"They want to know that we in Washington state are going to be able to produce the engineers they need," she said.

State agricultural representatives also discussed lifting restrictions on Washington beef imports in Japan. The state would like to sell beef, potatoes, apples and other products to Japan, which imports 60 percent of its food supply.

Japan is Washington's No. 1 trading partner and the top destination for the state's food and agriculture products, particularly cherries. The state's exports to Japan totaled $8.8 billion last year, while imports from Japan reached $18.3 billion.

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Gregoire said she expected significant progress on the beef issue within the next six months.

While Japan's economy is starting to recover, the city of Kobe is still struggling a decade after a devastating earthquake. State leaders learned about the city's efforts to develop its biomedical sector, similar to the life-sciences growth initiative in Washington.

Gregoire said the trip helped cement long-standing ties with Japan.

"The culture here in Japan is one of valuing friendship," she said. "Any trade relationship has personal relationships and real friendship" as its foundation, she said.

The 56-member delegation heads to China today for five days of meetings in Beijing and Shanghai.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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