Virginia's International Trade Commission turned in its long-awaited report to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles last week, calling for wide-ranging policy changes to increase the number of Virginia firms involved in exporting to 25 percent -- from the current 15 percent -- by the end of the century.
High on the commission's list of recommendations was a call for the creation of a Virginia World Trade Council to coordinate the state's trade promotion activities. That function now is divided among the Virginia Port Authority and the state's agriculture and economic development agencies.
The proposal would bring Virginia's export promotion efforts more in line with the highly regarded trade promotion strategy followed by Maryland, which has had a unified export office since 1985.
In a speech to the commission, Baliles endorsed the recommendations, saying they reflected the "basic understanding that while Virginia has formidable resources to develop its economy, we cannot afford to divide our forces. State government must have a coherent, directed structure."
The commission, made up of 20 business leaders, was established by Baliles last March as one of the first acts in the "Year of Trade" that the governor declared during his State of the Commonwealth address in January.
In the past year, Baliles has made three trips to the Far East and Europe in an attempt to promote the state's products and has sponsored a Geography Awareness Week for Virginia's schoolchildren, among other activities, to foster increased international awareness. The trade commission's recommendations, however, if enacted by the legislature, would be the Year of Trade's most significant accomplishment.
Other proposals from the commission include creating a position of deputy secretary for world trade within the state's economic development office, establishing a central data base for export promotion information, and increasing the emphasis on science and mathematics instruction in Virginia schools.
No mention was made in the report, however, of increasing the staffing levels in the state's three trade promotion offices, which have been the target of persistent complaints by the governor's critics, who have dubbed the Year of Trade the "Year of the Fade."
"We're talking about realigning and reallocating responsibility," said Meredith Strohm, special assistant to the governor. "We're talking about doing things better, not necessarily doing anything more."
The commission's recommendations appear to be modeled, in part, on the trade promotion efforts of Maryland, which is widely considered to be one of the national leaders in export promotion.
Last week, for example, Maryland was one of three states chosen for a special Export-Import Bank pilot program to assist local businesses in their exporting efforts.
John Bohn, president of the Ex-Im Bank, told a news conference at Maryland's second annual international trade seminar last Tuesday that the state had been chosen, along with California and Ohio, because of its "enthusiasm and commitment" to export trade.
The program will study ways of structuring financing agreements between the Ex-Im Bank and Maryland that would offer loan guarantees above the $1 million level currently available through the state.
"Together we can help Maryland businesses export their products around the world," Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer said at the news conference. "The Ex-Im Bank has financing. We have the companies. It sounds like a perfect partnership to me."
A report released by the Maryland Trade Policy Council in preparation for last Tuesday's conference estimated that exports accounted for 15,216 jobs in 1986 and $62 million in state and local taxes.