Thousands of Oregon jobs at stake in US-China relationship

Engineers with Cooper Environmental Services build equipment the company will ship to China.

Oregon is one of just eight states that has a trade surplus with China, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows.

While the United States as a whole has a $347 billion trade deficit with China, Oregon enjoys a $3.7 billion trade surplus.

Much of that surplus comes from tech goods exported to the Asian country, like pollution detectors made by Cooper Environmental Services in Beaverton.

“We develop instruments for measuring air pollution, both coming out of smoke stacks as well as in the air and in the water,” President & CEO John Cooper told KATU. “All of the work and parts are made right here in the state of Oregon.”

Cooper said about half of his business comes from China, so he watched Chinese President Xi Jingping’s recent visit with President Donald Trump very closely.

“I was concerned because of the comments President Trump has made regarding potential tariffs between different countries, including China,” Cooper said, adding that a souring of trade relations could put him out of business.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would put a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, and would label China a currency manipulator.

The president has since reversed his position, announcing recently he would not label China a currency manipulator.

That’s good news to Jin Lan, president of the Oregon-China Sister State Relations Council.

“Because the state of Oregon enjoys a [trade] surplus with China,” Lan said, “if there is a trade war, certainly Oregon is going to suffer. Probably Oregon is going to be at the forefront.”

Lan told KATU many Oregon business owners are, like Cooper, listening very carefully to what Trump says about China.

“I talked to people from east Oregon about alfalfa hay. I talked to the Oregon Beef Council. They’re all eager to export more to China. However, there’s this cloud hanging -- what’s going to happen to US-China relations?” Lan said.

Lan said, conservatively, Oregon’s trade surplus with China keeps about 15,000 to 20,000 workers employed in the state.

A trade war, if it came to that, Lan said, could mean thousands of Oregonians losing their jobs.

But he added that the United States as a country does need to alter its trade relationship with China, as such a massive trade deficit is unsustainable.

So far, Lan is encouraged with the tone on China coming out of Washington.

“I think there will probably be more wonderful news to come,” he said.

Cooper is less certain. He was hoping to hear something more definite out of the Xi-Trump meeting in Florida.

“Like most business owners I like to be able to predict the future,” Cooper said. “And in this particular case I have a high level of uncertainty as to just what those trade changes might be. I have increased my level of conservative business thinking to prepare for any changes that might come.”

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