Cantwell, Walla Walla Leaders Call for Extension of Key Tool to Support WA Wine Exports

Ex-Im Bank supports $70 million in wine exports, helps create jobs

LOWDEN, WA  – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined winemakers from the Walla Walla Valley in calling on Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which has supported exports of more than $70 million of Washington state wine since 2007.

Cantwell toured L’Ecole No. 41, an award-winning family-owned winery based in an historical schoolhouse in Lowden that has used the Export-Import Bank to expand its sales to other countries. Managing winemaker and co-owner Marty Clubb said the winery has sold about  $1 million worth of wine with assistance from the Export-Import Bank.

Photos are available here.

The Bank has helped Washington’s wine industry sell wines abroad to countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Germany.  The wine industry has a $500 million impact on Walla Walla county and supports more than 2,600 jobs. The Bank supports about 85,000 jobs overall in Washington state.

“A great entrepreneurial spirit exists here in Walla Walla, and there are great opportunities on the international stage,” Cantwell said. “We want those products that are made right here to be on the shelves in Seoul, Beijing and Berlin. The Export-Import Bank has been a vital tool that has helped businesses reach those international markets. But if Congress doesn’t act in 43 days, wineries like L’Ecole will lose a key tool.”

The Export-Import Bank is the export credit agency for the United States, and it finances or insures the purchase of U.S. goods by foreign customers. Export credit insurance enables wineries to expand international sales by protecting against the financial risk of a foreign customer not paying. The Export-Import Bank’s charter is set to expire Sept. 30, threatening export deals for Washington’s wine industry and more than 180 exporters in Washington state.  In July, Cantwell cosponsored bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Bank’s charter for five years,.

“The number one barrier to international sales is that guarantee of getting paid,” said Duane Wollmuth, Executive Director of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. “Without the Ex-Im Bank, there are no resources readily available to guarantee those payments, and that’s critical to the wineries. As we go to that next step, both here in Walla Walla and across the state to the international front, the Ex-Im bank is critical.”

With one in three jobs supported by trade, Washington state would be the hardest hit state in the nation if the bank is not renewed. In Eastern Washington alone, the bank has supported a total of $63 million in sales from 15 exporters, 14 of which were small businesses.

L’Ecole No. 41 has used Export-Import Bank support to export to Denmark, China and South Korea. Other Central Washington wineries to use the Bank include Hedges Family Estate in Benton City for exports to Denmark and Japan; and Airfield Estates in Prosser for exports to Denmark, Japan, and Sweden.

“Washington wines have never been hotter than they are today. The potential for future growth is amazing,” said Marty Clubb, L’Ecole’s managing winemaker and co-owner. His company’s 2011 Ferguson Vineyard recently won top Bordeaux blend at the Decanter World Wine Awards. “The wine business is a global business. We don’t compete in a regional area or even a national area. We compete on a global platform and your reputation for your region – your reputation for your brand – is built internationally.”

Exports support a wine industry that contributed $8.6 billion to Washington state”s economy, according to a 2012 economic impact study prepared by the Washington State Wine Commission. The wine industry supports 14 percent of the jobs in the Walla Walla Valley.

“This program is really important to the entire area and to farmers in general,” said Lyle Hansen, Executive Vice President at Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla. “I play a little golf, and I think of it like this: There are 60 countries that have institutions like this to help, and if we didn’t have this, it would be like me playing with no handicap against Tiger Woods.”

The 80-year-old Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization has been backed by business groups around the country, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Washington Business, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. Nationwide, it has supported $233 billion in exports since 2007.

The Export-Import Bank is an important tool for small and medium-sized companies, which comprise nearly 90 percent of Ex-Im transactions – 3,413 in 2013. 

The Export-Import Bank is self-supported through interest payments and fees, turning a profit for the U.S. taxpayer. In 2013, the bank transferred $1 billion to the U.S. Treasury.