Governors sing in unison of need to seek trade abroad

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

If there is a theme song for the nation's governors, its refrain would undoubtedly echo the need for states to drum up more business ``over there, over there'' -- just about anywhere overseas. This year's hot topic at the National Governors' Association (NGA) conference was trade and trade deficits. To a large degree, the conference this week showed that states have forged strongly ahead -- not waiting for federal aid to cultivate new trade from overseas.

A survey of state programs by an NGA's report shows that:

49 states hold export seminars sometime during the year.

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45 states use publications and computerized matchmaker systems to help their local exporting companies track trade trends.

30 states have representatives overseas.

More that 50 sister-state relationships already exist between US states and corresponding governments around the world.

15 states have passed export finance legislation and 10 states have finance programs in operation (akin to a loan bank), with varying roles and policies.

Every state is engaged in tourism promotion to lure tourists from abroad.

While the strong dollar and allegations of unfair trading practices by Japan and Canada have been blamed for trade woes, governors heard strong arguments against trade tariffs and against placing too much blame on the strong dollar.

Kevin Phillips, president of the American Political Research Corporation, said America's trade woes are symptoms of 20 years' worth of changes in the global market.

Those who blame the trade deficit or the strong dollar ignore changes in ``who makes what, where'' for the world market, Mr. Phillips said.

``You can't blame a governor or credit a governor for a state's economy,'' but the nationalism and regionalism that characterize the new global market lend themselves to state industrial strategies, he said.

Six Canadian premiers, in their first group appearance at the governors' conference, called for cooler heads to prevail in the current bickering between the US and Canada over lumber and other imports.

``We are all North Americans. . . . We can and we have worked out our differences. Let us not throw out the baby with the bath water,'' said Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan.

Idaho Gov. John Evans and British Columbia Premier William Bennett announced they will form a task force of American governors and Canadian premiers to study trade difficulties between the two countries.

US Treasury Secretary James Baker III told nearly 40 governors that trade sanctions are not a solution to the US trade deficit.

``Some have suggested quick-fix, meat-ax, protectionist solutions that would supposedly solve the trade deficit. But these measures would be dangerously counterproductive, because they are based on a misunderstanding of the trade deficit.''

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