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Maine governor supports more trade with China

By Hong Xiao and Zhang Yu'an in Rockport, Maine | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-05-23 14:48
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Maine is eagerly looking forward to more investment, students and tourists from China, said Governor Paul LePage.

Paul LePage, a Republican elected governor in 2011, will complete his second term at the end of the year. He visited China on trade missions in 2012 and 2015.

"So many results have been achieved!" he told China Daily, singling out the access that Maine's lobster producers now have to the Chinese market. LePage also expressed strong support for international trade in the interview at Maine International Trade Day on May 18 in Rockport.

As the largest international business event in Northern New England, this year's event was themed "Global Trade's New Era: Accessing Asia", as Asia is a growing market for Maine business.

Another win was a big investment in the state's paper industry - St. Croix Tissue in Baileyville got $120 million from International Grand Investment Corp, the US branch of a Chinese investment firm.

The money helped save the company and resulted in more than 80 new jobs at the mill and hundreds of jobs indirectly.

LePage said the government is speaking with a large Chinese company to come to Maine in the forest products industry, "and I see it will happen in a few months", he said.

With a great natural environment, Maine's agricultural outputs include poultry, dairy products, cattle, wild blueberries, apples and maple syrup.

"We have so much in the food category. We would like to see more Chinese investment here so we can send them to China," he said.

LePage said that with ties to China increasing, the field for international investment has expanded from originally lobster and forest products to food products, financial services, manufacturing, life sciences and other areas.

"Rather than be a government that says no, we are a government that says, 'How can we help?" LePage said.

According to data from Maine International Trade Center's 2017 annual report, 2,262 Maine companies exported $2.7 billion in goods and services to 176 countries.

Exports to Asia totaled $769 million, accounting for 29 percent of the total, and China, Japan and South Korea were the top three destinations for Maine exports in Asia.

Foreign direct investment has been a key part in Maine's economic engine - trade supports 180,500 (nearly 1 in 4) Maine jobs.

Since 2009, Maine jobs related to trade increased by 25.9 percent, while overall job growth was just 0.3 percent in the same time frame.

Currently, about 32,400 Mainers work for companies with foreign ownership.

In the past few years, there has been an exponential surge of Chinese students studying in the US, not only at college and graduate schools but also prep schools.

"We have thousands of young Chinese students here in Maine going to high schools," said LePage.

"And one of the advantages that Maine has over the rest of the US is we are one of the safest states in America. I'd like to say that we have the least amount of incarcerated people in our prisons than any other states," he said.

"Secondly is if we can get young Chinese students to come to our high schools, then maybe we can convince them to stay here and go to our universities - University of Maine and some very elite private colleges.

"Frankly, Maine people are just like Japanese society; we are getting older, we want to attract young people to come and live in Maine," he said.

"So I think it's really important that we develop a cultural exchange and (stay) here in high school and colleges and to help us grow our population," he added.

With more than 3,000 miles of coastline, Maine attracts more than 40 million vacationers from May to September.

"In the summer months, Maine is visited more than any other state in America. We invite Chinese people to come to visit Maine," LePage said.

Speaking of the recent trade tensions between China and the US, LePage said "good business people love tough negotiations."

"Preferably, I don't like governments to get involved in trade; if they are going to be, let's make sure everybody gets an equal playing field. Chinese get a good deal, and the US gets a good deal," he said.

"I don't believe tariffs work. I think tariffs work only when we fail to negotiate," he said. "The whole country has a trade deficit with China since China is a pretty strong manufacturing country.

"The Chinese people's standard of living is going to grow, and the United States is going to taper off, so that we can find an equilibrium and we can trade equally on equal footing," he said.

LePage said he wants to visit China a third time.

"I really enjoyed my visits to China. I just like going to see it before I leave," he said.

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