According to the latest figures posted by the Division of Trade and Development in a draft of 1999 exports, Japan bought 75 percent of Alaska's exported fish, 52 percent of its exported oil and gas, 68 percent of its exported wood products and 23 percent of its exported minerals last year.
Dave Beach compares the recent Asian economic crisis to a gradually debilitating illness. The ailment struck in the summer of 1997 and the patient stumbled, then became progressively weaker. Its heath worsened until it slipped into a comatose state in early 1999, at least from Beach's perspective at Movers Inc., a seafood logistics handler for international freight forwarders whose shipments to the Pacific Rim were dramatically affected by the so-called Asian Flu.
A year later, however, the prognosis has dramatically improved. Beach and others involved in Alaska's export industry say they're witnessing signs of renewed life in the Asian economy. And that improved financial health bodes well for Alaska exporters.
"The patient is out of the coma and getting better," said Beach, whose company has seen a significant increase of shipments. The bulk of the work comes from Japanese orders for cod milt, a soup additive and inexpensive Japanese delicacy. This is good news as far as Beach is concerned because Japan--Alaska's number one export market--accounts for most of the company's seafood shipments that make up the bulk of its business.
Beach said he can't disclose specific numbers to gauge the recovering Asian economy but says Movers Inc. has seen a 50 percent jump in freight handling business this winter.
"We could be close to '96 levels, to the pre-illness period," he said.
The improving health of the Asian markets is reflected in Alaska's export numbers, said Greg Wolf, director of the state Division of Trade and Development.
In 1999, Alaska had some $2.6 billion in exports--nearly recouping the ground lost before the Asian Flu struck in 1997, when exports totaled $2.7 billion. Totals plummeted to $2 billion in 1998, as trade volumes and commodity prices dropped, Wolf noted.
Industrial turnout in those countries fell significantly and currency values nose-dived. What's more, Japan remained bogged down in a recession whose roots went back nearly 10 years. Exports from Alaska shrunk by 34 percent overall.
"In 1998, we felt the full effect of Asia's financial crisis," Wolf said. "So it was good news to see the recovery start in 1999. And 2000 should be a very...