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What Can Brown Accomplish On His Mexico Trade Mission?

Photo: Office of Gov. Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown open the California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai on Brown's last trade mission in April 2013.

Photo: Office of Gov. Brown

California Governor Jerry Brown is spending much of the week in Mexico on what his office calls a “trade and investment mission.” But what can a state trade mission like this
actually accomplish?

When we posed that question to Jock O’Connell, a trade expert with the firm Beacon Economics, he paused for about four seconds before responding: “Good question!”

After all, states don’t have a say in U.S. foreign policy. Brown acknowledged as much last week when he previewed his trade mission at the California Chamber of Commerce: “There are a lot of big issues that cause concern in both countries. I’m ot quite sure what a state governor can do. But if there’s anything I can do, I’ll find a way to do it.”

So what can Brown do? O’Connell says that depends. Sometimes, the trips are just for the vanity of the governor. “But when missions are carefully focused – when they’re primarily business missions, in which the governor is a party to it, then you can expect some gains.”

Mexico is California’s largest trading partner, and Brown hopes to boost trade opportunities and expand economic cooperation. “The business of buying and selling is not business of government, but our job is to open doors or to facilitate understanding and make all that possible,” he says.

That may not be the only reason business leaders are paying $5,000 each to join the governor, top administration officials and several state lawmakers on the trip. O’Connell says the cost is well worth the access. “There are any number of organizations and businesses that has interests that they want to advance at the state Capitol who are glad to spend $5,000 to spend some time up close and personal with the governor,” O'Connell says. 

Brown’s trip isn’t just about trade; he also plans to discuss immigration, and urge Mexico to pursue what he calls an “intelligent” agenda on climate change.

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