Global trade dominates aerospace meeting in Lynnwood

LYNNWOOD — Trade-dependent businesses face an uncertain future: Will the federal government clamp down on visas for foreign workers? Will it cut the corporate tax rate?

Discussion of challenges and opportunities ahead dominated the opening day of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance’s annual conference. The three-day event is expected to draw more than 600 industry leaders from 15 countries.

Skepticism about freer trade and globalization have fueled the rise of populist politics from Warsaw to the White House. However, that does not mean turning away from trade altogether.

Leading up to Brexit — the election in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union — supporters of the measure were not calling for an end to free trade, they were calling for reclaiming national sovereignty, said Robin Twyman, the U.K.’s consul for business and government affairs in Seattle.

For years, countries have been pursuing greater control over trade agreements. Global trade entities have proven too unwieldy. The World Trade Organization has been trying to update its rules since 2001 with little to show for it, said Eric Schinfeld, the Port of Seattle’s manager of federal and international government relations.

The U.S. and others have pursued multinational trade deals, he said. “We already were very much down the path of a patchwork of global trade rules from country to country or groups of countries to groups of countries.”

Washington state heavily depends on international trade, driven largely by the aerospace industry. In 2015, the U.S. aerospace sector exported roughly $134.6 billion in goods and services and imported just under $54.9 billion, according to AeroDynamic Advisory, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based consulting firm.

Boeing airplanes make up a large portion of those exports, said Kevin Michaels, AeroDynamic Advisory’s managing director.

In general, foreign aerospace companies have been investing and expanding in America, he said.

Nonetheless, the industry faces big challenges ahead. If the past decade in aerospace was about moonshots and technological advances, the next 10 years will be about efficiency and productivity, Michaels said.

Boeing has a bullish market outlook, and projects the need for nearly 40,000 commercial jets over the next 20 years. Its current order backlog is more than 5,600 airplanes, enough to keep some production lines busy well past 2020.

The company has a clear view of what its revenues will be as it delivers thousands of airplanes in the next few years, said Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“The biggest challenge going forward is where we will be with cost,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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