Maryland officials yesterday postponed a week-long meeting between trade representatives from Asia and state businesses scheduled for this month out of fear of exposure to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The state Department of Business and Economic Development's Office of International Business delayed Asia Trade Week, scheduled for April 21 to 25, during which representatives of China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan were to have visited companies around Maryland.
The representatives also were to have attended receptions and meetings with economic development officials from Montgomery, Prince George's and other counties to discuss export opportunities, said Peter C. O'Neill, the state office's director. But some of the trade representatives and participating companies expressed concerns about the visit.
"I heard a few companies say they were worried about meeting these folks," O'Neill said. "The SARS doesn't seem to be getting any better. We're concerned for our representatives traveling on planes. We don't want people to be worrying about the disease rather than the business at hand."
Fear of SARS has disrupted other business functions. A delegation from the Taiwan Import Export Association this month canceled a visit to Maryland businesses, O'Neill said.
This week, Southeast Asia's largest annual exhibition of makers of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment was postponed for three weeks. Companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc. and General Motors Corp. have banned travel to and from Asia.
O'Neill said his office has arranged visits in the past by Asian trade officials, but this Asia Trade Week was designed to be a flashier affair to attract participation by more companies. Among the activities planned were a trip to a horse farm on the Eastern Shore and a reception with Prince George's business representatives at Woodmore Country Club in Mitchellville. About 30 companies had agreed to attend some of the week's functions.
O'Neill said officials decided Tuesday to delay the event. It could be rescheduled for September.
The state did not lose money because it had received corporate sponsorships and was able to cancel meetings far enough in advance to avoid losing deposits, O'Neill said.