L'Ecole Winemaker, Senator Urge Continuing Export-Import Bank

By:  The Walla Walla Union Bulletin - Andy Porter

A “key export tool” for Washington agriculture and businesses is under threat from those who would use it for political purposes, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Monday during a Walla Walla County visit.

The Washington Democrat said the federal Import-Export Bank “is being used as a political pawn during an election year” by a small minority of conservatives.

The institution faces extinction if its charter is not renewed by the end of September, she said.

Cantwell identified the conservative Heritage Foundation as among forces that have been trying to kill the Import-Export Bank for some time.

She said she was “very worried” that the bank’s opponents will attempt to have its charter reauthorized for only three months so the matter can be brought up again after the November general elections.

“I think it’s being used as a political pawn during an election year,” Cantwell said. “I’m baffled.

There are 241 people in the House of Representatives who support the bank. We just need to get them to vote and not let a minority hold it up.”

Cantwell’s call to save the bank came during a visit to the L’Ecole No 41 winery in Lowden, one of the state’s many wineries which depend on the Export-Import Bank to insure payments from foreign customers when they ship abroad.

The family-owned winery exports to 20 countries with the assistance of the bank, using it to support about $1 million in exports.

Marty Clubb, L’Ecole No 41 co-owner and managing winemaker, described how critical the Import-Export Bank has been to helping the winery grow its international market. L’Ecole joined the bank’s insurance program “a couple years ago, and it’s a really important program because it covers all of our business.”

Today the winery sells about 10 percent of its wine as export, but it hopes to grow that amount to 20-25 percent.

Duane Wollmuth, executive director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, said “the number one barrier to international sales is that guarantee of getting paid ... Internationally, without the Import-Export Bank, there are no resources readily available to guarantee these payments, and it’s a critical need for the wineries.”

Joining Cantwell, Clubb and Wollmuth at L’Ecole were Damien Sinnot of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Lyle Hansen, executive vice president at Baker Boyer Bank. They also urged support for Cantwell’s call to have the Export-Import Bank’s charter renewed.

Clubb’s wife, Megan Clubb, is chief executive officer and chair of the board of directors for Baker Boyer Bank.

In July, Cantwell was a co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the bank’s charter for five years. According to her office, one in three jobs in Washington state is supported by overseas trade and if the bank is not renewed this state “would be the hardest hit state in the nation,” if the institution folded.

Hansen said the Import-Export Bank is important to not only the area’s winemakers, but to all its agricultural producers. “This program is really important to the entire area,” he said.

Using a golf analogy, Hansen said “there are 60 countries that have institutions like this to help (businesses), and if we didn’t have this, all of a sudden it would be like me playing with no handicap against Tiger Woods.”