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Originally published Monday, June 23, 2014 at 5:45 PM

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Guest: How the Ex-Im Bank helps small businesses

Inaction by the federal government to reauthorize the Export-Import bank could put more than 100,000 Washington jobs at risk, according to guest columnists John Hannah and Eric Schinfeld.

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INACTION by Congress on a little-known piece of legislation could put more than 100,000 Washington jobs at risk. That policy, the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, is key to the success of Washington businesses large and small that are part of our state’s robust international trade economy.

Washington state exports more than double the national average, and at least 40 percent of Washington’s jobs are now tied to trade. In fact, our state’s exports rose to a record high of $82 billion last year. Yet many Washington employers could not finance their exports if it were not for the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, the nation’s official export credit agency, which risks expiration on Sept. 30 if Congress fails to reauthorize it.

Over the last five years, the Ex-Im Bank has supported $91 billion of sales of Washington products in foreign countries. That translates into thousands of jobs here at home. According to the U.S. International Trade Administration’s calculation, at least 137,000 Washington jobs were supported by the Ex-Im Bank last year alone. Of the 165 Washington employers that have used the bank to finance their exports in the last five years, more than 70 percent were small- and medium-sized businesses like the L’Ecole 41 winery in Walla Walla, Pacific Valley Foods in Bellevue and Wagstaff in Spokane.

The Ex-Im Bank plays a unique role in financing exports of U.S. goods to foreign customers by filling in the gaps offered by traditional financing and by partnering with private sector lenders. Many exporting businesses, especially small businesses, rely on the bank for export loans, loan guarantees and insurance.

These programs also level the playing field for U.S. companies abroad, enabling them to compete in the global marketplace. All of Washington’s key trading partners have an export finance agency comparable to the Ex-Im Bank to help promote and grow their exports — many of them with higher funding levels than ours. Failure by Congress to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank is equivalent to unilateral disarmament by the United States in the face of growing international economic competition.

Some members of Congress have argued that U.S. taxpayers should not be put at risk for financing exports and label the Bank a corporate welfare program. In reality, the Ex-Im Bank regularly generates a surplus of revenues, and earned U.S. taxpayers more than $1 billion in interest payments last year that helped pay down other federal government obligations.

Our nation and our state needs the Ex-Im Bank to ensure that Washington employers remain internationally competitive. Foreign customers will continue buying items like wine and manufactured goods, but without the Ex-Im Bank, they would buy them from producers in other countries instead of from us. The Ex-Im Bank is a model federal program: boosting exports, creating jobs and spurring the economy, all with no cost to U.S. taxpayers.

We must urge the Washington congressional delegation to vote in favor of reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank and encourage them to take a major leadership role in ensuring its reauthorization. Too many Washington jobs depend on our employers’ ability to sell their products to customers around the world to let this critical program expire.

John Hannah is president of Pacific Valley Foods, a Bellevue small business that uses the Ex-Im Bank financing for exports. Eric Schinfeld is president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

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