By Brent Griffiths, The Daily Iowan
Gov. Terry Branstad, representatives from all three regent institutions, and two other governors will begin a trade mission to China today.
“[Branstad] has a longstanding relationship with the president, and as a result of their relationship, has been able to explore new trade opportunities,” said Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director. “Certainly, if we didn’t have this relationship, we wouldn’t even get the foot in the door.”
The governor along with representatives from Iowa business including DuPont Pioneer and ACT Inc. will join Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., and Gov. Eddie Calvo, R-Guam, on the trip to four cities — including Beijing — during their time in the country.
An official with the Iowa Economic Development Agency, which planned the trip, said the mission offers Iowa a chance to develop relations in China — a growing economic market. In particular, the in-person trip allows the governors and business representatives a chance to build personal relationships in the country over time.
“China has an extensive market and is moving towards more of a middle class which has more of a disposable income,” said Tina Hoffman, marketing and commutations director for the development agency. “Developing personal relationships is important in China, and reciprocal development has opened doors in growing commodities exports.”
Youngwan Kim, a lecturer in political science at Iowa State University, said the visit could allow for Iowa to continue positioning itself as a trade partner with the nation, especially because China is looking to expand its investments — specifically, in the biofuel industry in Iowa.
“China is investing its money in many countries right now, including developing countries, and if that’s the case Iowa would be a very good place for them to invest their money,” he said.
An economic expert said while he was unsure how effective these trips would be given federal trade laws — the governor and business leaders can find out specific requests of the Chinese market.
“… I’m not sure how effective these things are because governments try to have some ‘tit for tat’ thing, and Branstad doesn’t have any control that’s at the federal level,” said Patrick Barron, University of Iowa adjunct lecturer in economics.
Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs, will represent the UI on the heels of UI President Sally Mason’s trip last July. Currently, the UI has more than 1,700 students coming from China.
Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, welcomed the governor’s trade outreach, but questioned the timing of the trip given the contentious issues currently being considered in the final weeks of the Iowa legislative session.
“I do believe you have to make in-person trips to work with people,” he said. “My question is how many people need to take [the trip], and even more so, why he is going towards the end of the legislative session with three of the large ticket items still on the plate.”
Albrecht said the governor’s office remains open to working with legislators during his absence, and “jobs don’t fit into a nice, scheduled calendar.”
“The governor outlined his proposals in early January, and for Democrats to not pass his measures and blame him for going on a trade mission to create jobs … is just political games,” he said.