When it comes to official globe-trotting, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer has few peers. He's not in Secretary of State James Baker III's class or Henry Kissinger's, but then who is? Besides, Mr. Schaefer's missions are trade-related, not diplomatic. Wherever Maryland's governor roams, he's looking to close a commercial deal.
Take the governor's ninth overseas trip, which begins tomorrow, with stops in Japan and Singapore. Much of the time will be spent in Yokohama, the largest city in Kanagawa Prefecture, now celebrating its 10th anniversary as Maryland's sister state. In addition to government-to-government meetings, Mr. Schaefer and his entourage will call on shipping contacts that use the Port of Baltimore and firms that do business in Maryland.
That is no small matter. Japanese capital investment in Maryland stands near $200 million. Some companies are considering expanding operations. Other Japanese firms have been studying Maryland's terrain for years and now may be ready to proceed. There is also enormous potential for Japanese import-export trade in the near future.
Equally exciting could be the governor's Singapore trip, where he will be taken under the wing of the trade-conscious U.S. ambassador there, former Indiana Gov. Robert Orr. Singapore's economy is booming and is assuming a key commercial role in light of Hong Kong's uncertain status.
Even if this 12-day trip leads to no added business, Mr. Schaefer's overseas journeys serve valuable purposes. Strengthening relations with existing customers is crucial. As Maryland's head of state, Mr. Schaefer's presence puts these trade missions on a VIP level, opening the door to key decision-makers for the state's business leaders. For instance, Maryland companies are already receiving dividends from the governor's March trip to Kuwait and his prior Middle East trade mission.
During last year's election campaign and again this spring, Mr. Schaefer was harshly criticized for these expensive global trips. The governor received a bum rap, much of it politically motivated. These trade missions have more than paid off in later investments ($140 million so far) and good will. They give Maryland a big advantage as states turn their attention to the increasingly important -- and increasingly competitive -- global market.
Governor Schaefer's status abroad is signified by the fact he will meet with both Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and Singapore President Wee Kim Wee on this Far Eastern trip. He is Maryland's best overseas ambassador: Schaefer's his name, and trade is his game.