RICHMOND, DEC. 22 -- With his self-proclaimed Year of Trade drawing to a close, Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles announced today that his recent trips to Europe and Asia had cost the state $246,000, a sum he likened to a long-term investment for building ties to foreign businesses.
"It's not a question of making the trip and coming back with orders as much as it is laying the groundwork for the contacts . . . that may result in the opening of markets," Baliles told about 40 reporters over breakfast at the Executive Mansion here.
Baliles, who is nearing the halfway mark of his four-year term, stirred only mild interest in January when he unveiled his Year of Trade initiative, a program designed to inform foreign leaders about the potential for investment in the state and to find overseas markets for Virgina products.
Since then, the governor has taken his globalist campaign to all corners of the state and several capitals of Asia and Europe. He made a $24,000 trip to China and Japan last spring; his mission to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia during the summer cost $52,000; and his 17-day tour of Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea in October cost $170,000 in transportation, lodging, food and support services such as interpreters, he said.
"The Year of Trade exceeded my expections," said Baliles. "I wanted people, but particularly business leaders, to perceive their enterprises in global terms. And I think we've done that."
The governor also hinted that he will travel to other countries in search of economic opportunities. "Trade missions are here to stay," he said.
Responding to other questions during the hour-long country breakfast of grits, ham biscuits and fruitcake, Baliles endorsed the concept of sex education in the public schools but stopped short of embracing the detailed family life program recently approved by state officials.
"I do not think we can ignore the subject or the need for education" in the area of human sexuality, Baliles said of the family life curriculum recently approved by the state Board of Education. "There appears to be a widespread feeling that some kind of educational program is needed, and I agree with those concerns about the need for such instruction."
Nonetheless, he added, "My guess is there are very few homes in this state today teaching that kind of knowledge to children."
In other matters, he avoided taking a position on a proposal to increase the speed limit on rural interstate highways. At least two legislators have filed bills to raise the limit from 55 mph to 65 mph, Baliles said he did not have a position on that issue. "I don't know whether the level of support is there to pass the bill," he said.
Baliles also disclosed that he voted, in a 1978 referendum, to authorize parimutuel betting on horse racing in the state. That ballot question was defeated by 52 percent of the voters.
Although saying he supported parimutuel betting at the polls nine years ago, Baliles declined to commit himself to backing a similar proposal in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, which is again expected to consider the idea.
"I don't give my support to something like that in advance," he said.