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AREA'S MERCHANDISE EXPORTS SLIP 1.5% IN 1996

A mid-1990s boom in exports by Niagara Frontier companies has leveled off, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Commerce Department as part of an effort to generate home-town support for President Clinton's trade initiative.

The report shows Erie and Niagara counties' merchandise exports slipped 1.5 percent last year, to $2.262 billion from a 1995 peak of $2.296 billion.

However, the region ranked 23rd out of 253 markets studied nationally in percentage growth -- 99.3 percent -- over the period 1993 through 1996.

Lawrence Southwick Jr., associate finance professor at the University at Buffalo, said the fact to concentrate on is the long-term growth in exports from the region. He said the growth is attributable to the North American Free Trade Agreement, possibly the export of capital-intensive chemical products to Mexico.

Commerce Secretary William Daley said the report showed that many parts of the country rely heavily on the sort of exports the administration says "fast track" would promote.

"The bottom line is that this report shows our exports are booming, which means American jobs," Daley said.

Daley released the report the day after House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said Clinton's request to Congress for fast-track authority is in trouble in the House. Among the opponents to the bill is Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg.

But the Senate Finance Committee approved the fast-track bill. The measure will be reported for full Senate floor action later this month.

Clinton wants to extend NAFTA to Chile and other Latin nations.

The Senate bill would allow labor and environmental provisions to be included only if they were directly related to the trade agreements and wouldn't change any U.S. laws. Opponents say those vaguely worded amendments effectively would bar negotiators from including those provisions in trade agreements.

The 1996 export leader was metro San Jose, Calif., home of Silicon Valley, with $29.3 billion in exports.

Next in line were New York, Detroit, Los Angeles-Long Beach and the Chicago area, which registered $22 billion in exports.

The surge in exports from the Detroit area might help explain why Detroit has supplanted Buffalo as the premier Canadian border crossing point.

Elmira, N.Y., ranked sixth nationally in percentage growth from 1993 through 1996. The dollar value of Elmira's exports rose 41 percent from 1995 to a record $126.7 million.

Rochester, where Eastman Kodak is based, continued its strong performance as an exporting community. Its one-year growth was 11.6 percent, with 1996 exports totaling $4.3 billion.

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