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McDonnell completes two-week overseas trade mission

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2011

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is wrapping up a two-week trade mission to Israel and India with promises of luring Asian investments back to Virginia and the United States.

"This has been a tremendous opportunity to put Virginia on the map in India," Mr. McDonnell said Monday during a conference call from New Delhi, where he has been since Saturday.

The overseas trip was the second this year for Mr. McDonnell, who has attempted to stimulate business for American companies that have seen jobs and capital drift overseas in search of cheaper labor and lower interest rates.

The major development from New Delhi on Monday was the opening of a forestry and agricultural trade office, made possible by funds approved during the past General Assembly session.

"With more than $2 billion in total agricultural exports each year, Virginia's rural communities benefit from the jobs generated by export sales," Mr. McDonnell said.

The state has hired Atul Khana, the president of i2iConsulting, a New Delhi-based company with more than 20 years experience importing and promoting agricultural products and foodstuffs, to represent the state in India.

Last year, Virginia's agricultural exports to India were valued at $3.2 million. With a population of more than 1.2 billion people and an economy growing at nearly 9 percent per year, the state expects that demand for imported agricultural products will grow along with India's economy.

The General Assembly also provided funding for a Virginia agricultural export office in China, the world's most populous country and second-largest importer of Virginia agricultural products. That office opening will take place at a later date.

Virginia already has opened trade offices in the United Kingdom and Shanghai and has independent contractors working in offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Mexico.

Each office has one staff person and, with the exception of Brussels, all are contract representatives. The Hong Kong office is currently in the process of relocating to Shanghai.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said he was confident he would have several business agreements in place within the next 30 days and several more within the next 90 days.

Secretary of Commerce Jim Cheng called the 12-day trip to Israel and India "extremely productive," noting that officials met with high-tech, bio-life-sciences and technology groups [-] industries crucial to Northern Virginia's technology sector. He said he expects several companies to be visiting Virginia in the next few months.

Mr. McDonnell and other U.S. leaders are trying to reverse a growing trend of American jobs and investment being lured overseas. Despite persistent questions over currency manipulation and human rights violations, China's economy, for example, has been expanding at 9 percent, with India not far behind.

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore said meetings on the trip included discussions with government officials on barriers to trade in India, which include "significant duties" on the import of goods.

"Those barriers ... need to be addressed," he said.

Earlier on the trip, Mr. McDonnell said that, in a way, the United States has been a victim of its own success, referring to the high wages and standard of living.

"There is a tendency for major corporations to go to places with lower interest rates," he said. "Many of us governors have been talking about working with Congress and finding repatriation strategies, taking businesses and bringing them back to Virginia. What I see happening is that long-term [in] India and China, their standard of living will go up ... and the playing field will begin to level."

To that end, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, recently announced legislation that passed Congress requiring the Commerce Department to set up a task force to examine what needs to be done to encourage U.S. companies to return manufacturing and research and development activities back to the United States.

The department also has to set up a list of "best practices" for states and communities to follow to help reverse the trend of outsourcing.

"Not enough has been done to bring jobs back home," Mr. Wolf said. "Now we are going to have a plan."

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