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Seattle protests influence John Kerry trade speech venue

US Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from his airplane upon arrival at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, Monday, May 18, 2015. Kerry returned to the US following a 3-day trip to China and South Korea. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle officials told Secretary of State John Kerry he’d be better off avoiding the city to deliver a major trade speech because of ongoing protests over Arctic drilling that have drawn hundreds of activists on land and sea.

Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw said State Department staffers had been looking at Seattle locations for Kerry to speak, including a downtown hotel. But McGraw said the Port advised the State Department to look elsewhere because of the Arctic drilling demonstrations.

“With all the hoopla we were juggling, it was an opportunity best presented to others,” McGraw said Tuesday. “We just let them know that we had our hands full with other events, if they had other locales they were best for them to pursue.”

Kerry spoke Tuesday morning at a Boeing plant in Renton, about 12 miles south of Seattle, about the strategic and economic importance of trade.

The speech was planned for more than a week, but the State Department didn’t announce the venue until Monday, the same day hundreds of activists holding banners and flags marched to a Port of Seattle facility and rallied for hours. They blocked the entrances where a massive Royal Dutch Shell drill rig will be loaded before heading to waters off Alaska this summer.

On Saturday, hundreds of “kayaktivists” paddled near the 400-foot Polar Pioneer because they were upset it is being moored in Elliott Bay.

The activists are concerned about the risk of an oil spill in the remote Arctic waters and about the effects that tapping new frontiers of oil and gas reserves will have on global warming. Officials in Alaska have touted the economic benefits that drilling could bring to their state and the Pacific Northwest.

The Port of Seattle is a major gateway for goods travelling to and from Asia, and Washington state relies heavily on international trade. State officials say one in three jobs in the state is directly tied to international commerce.

Kerry’s choice of a Boeing Co. plant to extol the virtues of free and fair trade was a strange one given the plane manufacturer has benefited from billions of dollars’ worth of illegal U.S. subsidies.

The World Trade Organization has issued several rulings in recent years determining Boeing cheated the competition through tax breaks, government-funded facilities and other forms of banned federal and state support.

The WTO also faulted Boeing’s main rival, Europe’s Airbus, for similar infractions in a case China’s government has closely monitored.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Seattle and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

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