Local Politics

Perdue sets two-week trade mission to China, Japan

Posted September 2, 2009 11:07 a.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2009 8:26 a.m. EDT

— Gov. Beverly Perdue, Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and a handful of executives from North Carolina will visit China and Japan in October in an effort to drum up business for the state, officials said Wednesday.

Perdue will be the second North Carolina governor to visit China in an official capacity, following a trail blazed by former Gov. Jim Hunt a decade ago. Her staff mistakenly said Wednesday morning that she would have been the first governor to go to China.

“Asian trade and investment represent significant growth opportunities for our state, especially in an economic downturn,” Perdue said in a statement.

China is North Carolina's second-largest trading partner, while Japan is the fourth largest. The two nations did $3.6 billion worth of business with North Carolina last year, officials said.

"We must build relationships. It's all about relationships," Crisco said. "It's all about meeting the people eyeball to eyeball and working with them on what they think is important."

Crisco said competition for trade with China is so intense that he urged Perdue to make it part of her first international trip as governor. The trade mission, which will include stops in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China, will target companies in the automotive and biotech industries, he said.

"Jobs are precious. Other states are aggressive. They're there all the time, and we would be noted for our absence big time," he said. "Relationships (with other states) would be built that we wouldn't be able to turn around. That would not be good for North Carolina."

More than 120 Japanese companies have operations in North Carolina, employing about 18,000. About a dozen Chinese companies have sites in the state, including computer maker Lenovo in Morrisville, with about 2,500 employees total.

About $82,000 in taxpayer money will be spent on the two-week trip, and officials have raised another $90,000 in private funds to help with expenses, officials said.

With the tight state budget, officials have gone over expenses line by line to ensure as little public money is spent on the trip as possible, Crisco said.

"We understand the economy," he said. "We understand things are not great, but the alternative of doing nothing and folding up our tents just doesn't make sense. We need to be cost-conscious, and we are cost-conscious."

The Oct. 14-27 trip is timed to coincide with 33rd annual joint meeting of the Japan-U.S. Southeast Association and the Southeast-Japan Association, organizations that promote commerce between the region and Japan.

North Carolina is the current U.S. host of the event, which returns to Tokyo this year after having met in Raleigh last October. More than 400 Japanese and southeastern U.S. leaders are expected to attend the event.

Agriculture Secretary Steve Troxler made a seven-day trip to China in early August and said the country could become a primary export market for North Carolina tobacco. The state is also looking to expand exports for soybeans, cotton, poultry and pork, he said, adding that North Carolina might open an agriculture office in China.