ANCHORAGE — China will emerge as Alaska’s top export customer for 2011 when final trade statistics are counted for the last two months of the year, state officials say.
As of Nov. 1, the value of Alaska exports to the Asian giant had reached $1.3 billion, a 52.5 percent increase over the same 10-month, January-October period for 2010, U.S. exports statistics show.
The numbers will change when November and December figures are added but those will not change the overall trend, according to Patricia Eckert, associate director for International Trade in the governor’s office.
Susan Bell, State Commissioner of Commerce said China’s domestic consumption of seafood is increasing, and this includes higher-value products.
“We really saw this when we accompanied Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute people to the China Seafood Expo in late October. We saw snow crab, Pacific cod and sole from Alaska as well as other products like sea cucumbers and geoduck,” Bell said.
Total Alaska exports are likely to pass the $5 billion mark for 2011 assuming the trend holds. As of Nov. 1 total export values totaled $4.73 billion, according to the U.S. data.
Export values to Japan, another major Alaska trading partner, totaled $967.9 million for the first 10 months of the year, down 9.8 percent for the $1.07 billion in same period of 2010. However, the bulk of the decrease came in declining purchases of energy, primarily liquefied natural gas shipped from ConocoPhillips’ LNG plant near Kenai.
ConocoPhillips had made regular LNG shipments to utilities in Japan through early 2011 under long-term contracts. When those contracts ended in early 2011 the company still made periodic shipments of spot cargoes of LNG but also made shipments to other Asian nations including China.
Japan’s purchases of other commodities from Alaska, such as seafood and timber, both showed increases. Japan imported $527.3 million in seafood for the January-through-November period compared with $464.83 million in seafood for the same period of 2010.
Forest products sales from Alaska to Japan, although small, also showed an increase, from $11.5 million in the first 10 months of 2010 to $21.4 million in the same period of 2011.
Alaska exports to Korea totaled $576.4 million for the first 10 months of 2011, up 29.6 percent from $444.7 million for the same period of 2010. There were increases in exports of all major Alaska commodities including seafood, mineral ores and forest products in 2011, according to the export data.
For China, seafood accounted for the majority of 2011 Alaska exports to that nation, totaling $762.8 million in value, about 58 percent of total exports to the Asian nation for the first 10 months of the year. Mineral ore concentrates, primarily zinc, lead and gold from mines operating in Alaska, accounted for much of the rest, totaling $439.1 million, according to the data.
China also imported $11.9 million in energy products from Alaska in the first 10 months of the year, marking the first year China imported energy from Alaska.
The types of energy purchased were not identified but it is known that ConocoPhillips sent at least one, and possibly more, cargoes of LNG from its plant near Kenai to China during the year.
The company would not identify its LNG customers but has said that LNG shipments were made to China, Japan and Korea in 2011.
Much of the seafood exported was frozen fish shipped unprocessed from Alaska and processed in China, Eckert said. Much of that is exported from China to other nations, much of it in Asia but some back to the U.S. in the form of seafood products, she said.
However, increasing amounts of the Alaska seafood is being consumed in China itself as consumers in the nation become more prosperous and seek to improve the protein in their diet. There is no firm data on how much of the imported seafood in consumed within China but estimates by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute put the figure at 30 percent, Eckert said. The trend is up, however.
“It used to be 10 percent,” she said.
In terms of value, Alaska seafood and mineral concentrate exports to China increased more than 50 percent between 2010 and 2011, increasing from $484.9 million in seafood purchases in 2010 to $762.8 million in 2011, and although part of the increase in sales value was a result of increased prices for seafood and changes in currency values, an increased volume of seafood exports clearly played a major part, Eckhart said.
In the case of mineral concentrates, metal prices and currency changes likely played a dominant role in the 34 percent increase in export values to all Alaska trading partners on the first 10 months of 2010 and 2011 because the price of zinc and gold, the most important metals in the export data, both rose during the year.
Mineral ore exports to China totaled $291.9 million in 2010 for the January-through-October period but increased to $439.1 million in 2010 for the same period of 2011. The Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue and the Greens Creek Mine near Juneau are major producers of zinc, and both mines well in international markets.
China also purchases gold from the Kensington Mine near Juneau under a contract with its owner, Coeur d’Alene Mines.