A cheerleader for Minnesota trade, Ventura reminisces

Andrew Pritchard

Gov. Jesse Ventura said Monday his June trade mission to China was his proudest accomplishment as governor.

“I look forward to the long relationship that will continue between Minnesota and China,” he said.

Ventura also said he and Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny had discussed the governor’s continuing to lead China trade projects if Penny were elected.

Ventura spoke at a Minnesota International Center forum at the University’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Ventura said China is a nation in transition, in which 19th century rickshaws and traditions coexist with modern highways and fast-food restaurants.

“The charming mystique of old China still exists,” he said, “But you can’t help being impressed with the explosive development in Beijing and Shanghai.”

He previously traveled to Japan, Mexico, Germany and twice to Canada on trade missions. Ventura returned Saturday from a visit to Cuba.

The 105-member delegation on the eight-day trade mission was the largest ever sent to China by a state government.

“This was an outstanding example of how the state can and should support business development,” the governor said.

Ventura toured cities, met with Chinese ministry officials and attended openings for the Shanghai offices of two Minneapolis law firms.

He also met with officials from Minnesota companies such as 3M, which manufactures all Chinese license plates, and Hormel, which produces all of China’s pepperoni.

“In China now, they’re really starting to enjoy pizza,” Ventura said.

With 1.3 billion people – one-fifth of the world’s population – China bought $619 million of Minnesota-manufactured exports in 2001, up 14 percent from the year before.

Over the last four years, Minnesota’s exports to China have grown by 84 percent, the China Daily reported in June.

“When we look ahead, we can’t help but see China,” Ventura said.

Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development Commissioner Rebecca Yanisch called the visit the “mother of all trade missions.”

Yanisch said China is Minnesota’s fourth-largest market for manufactured exports and that the state’s exports to China have grown at four times the national average in recent years.

“China is the number one marketing opportunity of the 21st century,” she said.

Yanisch also said the University has the largest U.S. population of Chinese students and scholars.

The trip’s participants were divided by industry into four groups. Along with an official delegation representing the state, they attended 55 events in two cities during the trip, Yanisch said.

“I’ll tell you, the business cards were flying,” she said.

Ventura said many business leaders told him the trade mission presented opportunities for them they had not been able to obtain on their own.

The governor was already known in China for his support of normalized trade relations between that country and the United States and for backing World Trade Organization membership for the communist nation.

Carl Goldstein, a former Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent speaking at Monday’s forum, said China’s transition away from having one official agency represent each industry makes establishing business relationships complicated.

“Wending your way through the maze of public and quasi-public and quasi-private and fully private organizations is a daunting task,” he said. Trading with China “still has a certain frontier feeling to it,” he said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Pritchard covers state politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]