As reported yesterday–twelve of thirteen California foreign trade offices are due to shut down when current leases expire; the only foreign trade office to operate will be the state’s Armenia trade office scheduled to open next year. California’s economic difficulties are blamed for the closures–and because private donations will fund the Armenia trade office–it has been spared. Reacting to the news–reporter Jock O’Connell–in a special to the Sacrament Bee on Sunday–August 3–blasts the state’s decision to allow the Armenia office to operate–calling it "an invitation to scandal." Armenian National Committee member Steve Dadaian–in a letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee–responds to O’Connell’s attempts to discredit the privately funded trade office in Armenia–citing the win-win nature of the venture.
SHUTTERING ALL TRADE OFFICES SAVE YEREVAN
By Jock O’Connell
As part of the budget deal cobbled together at the State Capitol last week–the state’s dozen foreign trade offices will be closed. Once various leases and contracts are wound up–California’s chronically dubious stab at the business of promoting international trade will be officially over. Or will it? Deep within a trailer bill accompanying the Budget Act lurks this paragraph: "The governor shall instruct the secretary of business–transportation and housing to establish–on a contract basis–an international trade and investment office in Yerevan–in the Republic of Armenia–to serve the region of Eastern Europe and Western Asia." Yerevan? Now let’s get this straight. After shutting down trading posts in places like London–Tokyo–Shanghai–Singapore and Hong Kong–the world’s fifth largest economy may soon open a commercial office in the world’s 114th largest economy. Landlocked Armenia–population 3.7 million–is not merely one of the poorer and most isolated of the former Soviet republics–it’s apparently still struggling to establish its credentials as a democracy. Just two weeks ago–the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called for reforms in the country’s electoral process after parliamentary and presidential votes held earlier this year "failed to meet OSCE commitmen’s for democratic elections." International observers had reported numerous instances of voter intimidation–mishandling of ballots and faulty vote counting. But if politicians in Armenia have trouble grasping the nuances of the democratic process–some Armenian Californians evidently understand the process all too well. In this case–what they understand is that the promise of substantial campaign donations can persuade craven politicians in Sacramento to blithely traffic in the state’s good name and reputation. Unlike the soon-to-be shuttered–taxpayer-financed overseas offices–the cost of the Yerevan outpost is to be footed by private interests. Presumably–those running the office will be acting with the welfare of all Californians and Armenia’s in mind. But who other than a denizen of the state Capitol would feign to believe that anyone would offer to pony up the cost of running an office in Yerevan year after year without the expectation of certain tangible benefits? Franchising the privilege of posing as the official representative of the State of California in a distant land is not simply a dangerous precedent; it is an invitation to scandal.
So let’s get this straight; California taxpayers have spent tens of millions of dollars funding foreign trade offices in places such as Argentina (with a totally bankrupt economy). Such trade offices–as it has recently been uncovered–have not produced the level of trade deals as they had been reporting to Sacramento lawmakers all these years. But now comes a group lead by leading California American Armenian businessmen and women who are offering to foot the entire cost of a real trade office in the former Soviet Union–all to the benefit of California’s businesses and taxpayers at a total cost of zero dollars! And some angry misguided Capitol reporter hoping to prove he has some Woodward and Bernsteinesqe investigative talent has decided to not only throw the baby out with the bath water–but also insult a segment of California’s diverse ethnic community with his purported disdain for private funding. So what is the real problem here? Why not undertake a trade office that is totally free for California’s taxpayers? Is it that the beltway bandits who have benefited so long from the trough of the publicly funded boondoggles and pork are afraid private entities can do it cheaper and more effectively? I wonder….
Steven J. Dadaian–Esq.
Member of the ANCA
Los Angeles California