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Schwarzenegger Visits Mexico to Build Relations, Promote CA Products

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In his first official act after the election, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has left on a two-day trade mission to Mexico. The Governor hopes to promote California businesses south of the border and strengthen California-Mexico relations. This morning Schwarzenegger meets with outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox in Mexico City and later sits down for the first time with President elect Felipe Calderon. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson is traveling with the Governor and has this story.

When the Governor was elected to his first term, he promised to be California’s number one salesman. He pledged to go anywhere to sell California products, promote tourism and pump up the state’s economy. The Governor delivered the same message during his most recent radio address announcing this trade mission to Mexico.

Schwarzenegger: The California-Mexico partnership is important to both sides of the border and our trade mission is one big step to making that relationship even stronger and thereby selling more California products and helping our economy.

Mexico has been California’s top export destination for seven years. In 2005, the state shipped about $18 billion worth of California products to Mexico. That market supports about $200,000 California jobs.

The Governor says this trade mission is a fantastic opportunity for Californians to discover new markets for their products and attract investment. With that goal in mind, the Governor invited a delegation of 63 California business people from a wide variety of industries to accompany him as he pushes California tourism, industry and agriculture.

After meeting with President Fox this morning, the Governor plans to stop at a Mexico City supermarket to promote California products, including produce like strawberries and pears.

Chris Zanobini is Executive Director of the California Pear Advisory Board and is traveling with the Governor. Zanobini says Mexico is integral to the success of the state’s pear industry. California exports about 15-percent of its pears to Mexico. And Zanobini looks forward to a productive visit. But he’s also certain one thorny issue will crop up…

Zanobini: This year in particular we saw a much reduced availability of migrant labor. And we believe a lot of this has to do with the lack of immigration reform. And we were lacking anywhere from 30-40 percent of the typical workforce.

Given that immigration is a federal issue it is not clear how President Elect Felipe Calderon and Governor Schwarzenegger will address it. During the last two years the Governor has played both sides. He welcomed the Minutemen. And while Fox was visiting Sacramento last May, Schwarzenegger announced he’d send National Guard troops to the border. Recently, the Governor has taken on a more moderate tone. He’s voiced support for a guest worker program and to give migrants a chance to earn citizenship.

Calderon, meanwhile, has stressed the importance of bi-national immigration reform. He called President Bush’s recent authorization of 700 more miles of border fencing a grave mistake.

The Director of University of San Diego’s Transborder Institute, David Shirk says overall, the trade mission is important symbolically.

Shirk: They send a message on both sides of the border to the business community that there are opportunities to be had as a result of the ties between those economies and that there are policy makers who are interested in facilitating those opportunities.

Shirk says Schwarzenegger should also look for opportunities where California can invest in Mexico. Shirk says economic development, especially in communities that send many migrants to the United States, will help ease political tensions in Mexico and  strengthen the rule of law, which will ultimately benefit California and Mexico.

Amy Isackson, KPBS News.



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