TRAVERSE CITY, MICH., JULY 27 -- Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles prepared to leave the annual meeting of the National Governors' Association today in much the same fashion as he arrived here: pushing international trade and assured of becoming the group's chairman next year.
Baliles, clearly pleased by the attention he and his state have attracted during three days of meetings with most of the nation's governors, said he would be taking home to Richmond "a shopping bag full of ideas" for study.
"It's been interesting to see others confirming the course we've set for ourselves," Baliles said today as he returned from a quick tour of the spectacular Sleeping Bear sand dunes near this resort on Lake Michigan.
As he has all year back home, Baliles pounded away at his favorite theme of boosting the role of individual states in the world economy. In doing so, the governor took issue with some conference participants, notably Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee A. Iacocca, who in a fiery address on Sunday repeatedly took Japan to task for its trading strategies.
"It's counterproductive to engage in Japan-bashing," Baliles said. "If you look at the trade statistics, Japan and West Germany account for 22 percent of this nation's trade. Canada accounts for 21 percent, but you don't hear people bashing Canada.
"What Japan does may be part of the problem, but it's not the total problem," Baliles said.
Author David Halberstam, who has written a book on trade with Japan, appeared here at Baliles' request and echoed his host at a meeting of the group's committee on international trade and foreign relations. The United States is entering a "new, and not particularly easy era," Halberstam said, one accelerated by the country's historic "managerial excellence" giving way to the "arrogance of affluence."
"It is easy to get angry with the Japanese," Halberstam said, but "we shouldn't be bashing, we should be learning" from that country.
After days of discussing the sometimes murky concept of "competitiveness," including ways to give states a leg up in the international economy, several governors seemed to embrace Baliles' view that they should forge overseas trading ties now to reap the benefits decades later.
If the conference produced any consensus, it is that "we have begun to fully understand how the world is changing," said Vermont Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin, a Democrat, during the seminar with Halberstam.
Baliles, who as part of his 1987 Year of Trade initiative has traveled to Japan, China and several European countries, with another trip to Asia planned for this fall, appeared buoyed by the National Governors' Association response to those efforts -- which was far warmer than the reception the program has won at home.
"I don't think 50 states are pursuing their own trade strategies," Baliles said in an interview. "We're simply saying we ignore the changes in this world at our peril.
"All this takes a while," he added. "The message needs to be drummed home. It's like a commercial: There's a need for repetition and redundancy."
On Tuesday, just before leaving for a meeting of Democratic governors at a retreat north of here, Baliles is expected to be elected the group's vice chairman, which would put him in line for the chairmanship starting next summer.
Since the group's founding in 1908, four Virginians have been chairmen, the last, Thomas B. Stanley, 30 years ago.