Los Angeles exporters would like to be able to take advantage of a weak dollar. After all, U.S. goods should be cheaper for international buyers paying with other currencies.
But it's not been so easy to exploit the opportunity.
Seth M. Wilen, president of food and beverage exporter American Trading International, said he has seen an increase in daily inquiries from overseas customers looking to buy U.S. products for the first time. Revenues grew 20 percent in 2004, which Wilen only partially attributes to the currency valuation. New free-trade agreements with Morocco, Jordan, Chile and Singapore have also helped, he said.
Yet other factors, such as rising fuel and shipping costs and competition from subsidized industries, have limited the benefits.
"With all of the price gouging going on in logistics and transportation, it's hard to say that the true savings of the weakening dollar are making their way to exporters," Wilen said.
American Trading exports everything from commodity chicken leg quarters to high-end cappuccino mixes to hot sauce. Wilen likes to talk about the international thirst for American products and the American image, but it all comes down to price.
A customer in Dubai, for example, was looking to switch to distributing U.S. dairy products. "In the end, we still couldn't compete in dairy products for the Middle East because European dairy products get much higher government subsidies," Wilen said.
Tedd Koh, president of Amtech Co., saw his small medical equipment export business grow 10 percent last year due in large part to the weak dollar. "We've seen an amazing increase in sales volume because most of our competitor companies are in the EU," Koh said. Amtech ships rehabilitation products and diagnostic devices to customers in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"The euro is really higher than most other countries' currencies, and the pound is also quite strong. With the U.S. dollar really low, it really helps me," Koh said. Amtech did $1 million in sales for 2004, and Koh projects $1.2 million for 2005.
Most of Amtech's customers pay for shipping and freight costs, but the increases still concern Koh. For the moment, Koh's products are cheaper than his European competitors', even when shipping costs are factored in.
But his customers have been choosing ocean freight over air, he said, and the jams at L.A. ports have Koh wondering how much longer his customers will be able to wait. "The delays are not good for customers," he said.
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