Standing in front of the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview, the country's newest in a quarter century, a top U.S. trade official said Monday that rising Asian demand will provide a fertile market for Northwest exporters for years to come.
"As the demand for U.S. grain and agriculture increases, we're going to need more facilities like this one," said keynote speaker Islam Siddiqui, the chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, at EGT's grand opening ceremony.
Siddiqui, who's worked in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, said free trade with Asian countries has supported tens of thousands of U.S. jobs from farms to docks, and he expects those numbers to grow.
"We are heading in the right direction," Siddiqui told about 100 people in a tent on EGT's grounds.
EGT docked its first ship at the $200 million terminal in February, a few weeks after settling a seven-month labor dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The contentious and sometimes violent dispute ended in January when Gov. Chris Gregoire brokered a deal between the two sides.
The audience at the grand opening included community leaders, EGT representatives and others from the maritime industry. About two dozen traveled from Asia to represent two of EGT's partner companies, Korean shipper Pan Ocean STX and Japanese trader Itochu Inc. EGT's third partner company is St. Louis-based grain giant Bunge North America.
In addition to Islam, the chairmen of EGT's three partner companies gave brief talks: Duk-Soo Kan of STX, Eizo Kobayashi of Itochu and Alberto Weisser of Bunge.
"We are proud to be doing business in your community," Weisser said.
At full capacity, EGT can unload a maximum of 8 million tons annually of corn, wheat and soy beans from farms as far east as Minnesota. Grain will be shipped from the terminal to South Korea, Japan and China. Those Asian markets make up roughly three-quarters of the nation's $137 billion agriculture export industry.
The terminal will unload 600 mile-long unit trains and 500 barges per year. It will send the grain out on 200 ships annually, loading a single ship in less than 12 hours. The terminal will double the number of ship calls at the Port of Longview, bringing millions of dollars to the port in docking fees, company officials said.
EGT officials have called the terminal the most efficient on the West Coast. Workers do not need to decouple incoming trains, which can be unloaded in less than five hours, according to EGT. The company installed two multi-million-dollar robots to open the cars -- a technology only in place at EGT.
"When harvests last three to four weeks, every hour of every day counts. And we are hours, if not days, (faster and more efficient than) our nearest competitor," EGT CEO Larry Clarke said.