A sudden and unilateral decision by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to close the Montana trade office in Taiwan has sparked a furor in Taiwan and the US state, with legislators and the Montana Chamber of Commerce scrambling to come up with a solution.
In an abrupt announcement on Wednesday, Schweitzer said that as part of a cost-cutting program, the trade office would be closed and that in lieu virtual offices in three locations — Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong — would be launched.
Schweitzer said it cost US$90,000 annually to employ a full-time representative in the office, which was opened in 1988. Local phone numbers would still be answered by a receptionist working on contract, he said, who would then transmit requests and messages to state officials.
Critics were quick to pounce on the governor, who has spoken proudly of his accomplishments in slimming down government.
Montana Senate President Jim Peterson said Schweitzer had made the decision alone, without consulting legislators, the business community or the Taiwanese government.
“This is a longstanding relationship that deserves greater discussion than a spur-of-the-moment decision by the governor,” CBS News quoted Peterson as saying.
The announcement comes as Schweitzer has been courting Chinese investors to fund a US$150 million, US Department of Agriculture-certified facility in Shelby, along the Canadian border, which would process 1.2 million hogs annually and employ 500 people.
“The Chinese consume 50 percent of the pork on the planet. They don’t want to compete with themselves,” Schweitzer said recently of China’s interest in the Montana facility.
“They want new production,” he added.
Many of the about 50 commercial-scale producers in Montana would expand if the Shelby facility were built, he said.
China is the world’s largest swine-producing market and consumes all of the 53.6 million tonnes of pork it generates annually.
According to the Livestock Marketing Association, China is one of the largest overseas markets for US pork products.
Following a one-week visit to China early last month, Schweitzer met a delegation of Chinese investors in Los Angeles on Feb. 16, where the plant was discussed.
Peterson said he hoped the decision to close the trade office in Taiwan, officially known as the Montana-Asia Pacific Trade Office and located in the Taipei World Trade Center, was not related to Schweitzer’s efforts to attract Chinese investment.
“You would hope that’s not the case, but you have to wonder,” Peterson said. “I am in support of increased trade with China, but I don’t know that I want to do that at the expense of Taiwan.”
Schweitzer denies any Chinese connection to his decision. In 2000, the responsibilities of the trade office were expanded to include promotional activities in Hong Kong and China.
Contacted for comment yesterday, an official at the trade office said they had been ordered to cease all activity until further instruction by the state.
“Technically, the office was closed, effective March 2,” the official said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity, as they had been instructed not to show up for work or to answer the telephone until further notice.
“But they’ve already fired me, so what do I care?” the official said. “And there are several ongoing projects that need taking care of.”
Legislators and the Montana Chamber of Commerce, who were kept in the dark about the decision, are now fighting the governor’s decision, which is being regarded as inappropriate, the official said.
“We’re all very upset and angry,” the official said, adding that the decision should not be interpreted as representing the will of the people of Montana. “This was not a decision by the people, this was just one person.”
Taiwan is one of Montana’s top five trade partners, mostly for agricultural products.
Montana State Government statistics show that total exports to Taiwan in 2010 were US$93.5 million, slightly less than the US$122.8 million to China.
Taiwan is also a major source of tourists for the state, a sector the trade office has worked very hard to develop in recent years and which could further expand once Taiwan is admitted into the visa-waiver program, possibly by the end of this year, the official said.
The official said it was doubtful that the virtual offices proposed by Schweitzer would be as effective in facilitating commerce.
“There’s a lot of discussion going on,” the official said, adding that while Schweitzer was unlikely to reverse his decision, as he had already made the announcement, the chamber of commerce and business community were trying to find possible alternatives to continue operations.
CBS News reported that Taipei was worried about the move and would send a representative to Montana yesterday for discussions with business leaders about the move.
Schweitzer’s office said there were no meetings scheduled with Taiwanese officials.
‘LOCAL TRANSMISSION’: The nation reported 11 new cases, including seven local infections in the north, the highest daily number of cases since the pandemic began The COVD-19 situation has entered the “local transmission” stage and enhanced disease prevention measures have been implemented until June 8, the Central Epidemic Command Center announced yesterday as it reported six locally transmitted cases with unclear infection sources. The center reported 11 new cases yesterday: four imported cases from India, and seven local infections in northern Taiwan, the highest daily number of cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that one of the local infections — case No. 1,201 — is a woman who is a family member living with
SIXTEEN LOCAL: Three COVID-19 infections are linked to a cluster at a gambling house in Yilan County, 10 to a case in New Taipei City and three had unclear sources The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday urged people to increase vigilance and thoroughly practice preventive measures against COVID-19 as it reported 16 locally transmitted cases of the disease. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that 21 cases were confirmed in Taiwan yesterday: 16 local cases, four imported cases and one case undetermined. The locally transmitted cases are three linked to a cluster of infections at a gambling house in Yilan County, 10 associated with a previous case in New Taipei City and three with unclear sources of infection. The CECC on Tuesday reported a cluster
TRACING TROUBLE: An infected man who had said that all his children were abroad was found to have a daughter in Kaohsiung who tested positive, the center said The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported a new daily record of 29 local COVID-19 cases, including seven cases with unknown sources of infection. Of the 29 cases, 16 are linked to tea houses in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told a news briefing in Taipei. The 16 are tea house workers or visitors, or their contacts, the CECC said. Workers and visitors to the establishments have frequent interpersonal contact, but few protective measures against the COVID-19 pandemic are in place, Chen said, urging those who have been exposed or have
GRID PROBLEM: A Taipower spokesman said that the blackouts were not due to usage exceeding supply, nor were they because of a problem at the Singda plant There were rolling blackouts across Taiwan yesterday due to a grid malfunction at the Singda Power Plant (興達電廠) in Kaohsiung’s Yongan District (永安), while Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) said that it was working “as hard as possible to resolve the issue as soon as possible.” At 2:37pm, a malfunction at an ultra-high-voltage substation in Kaohsiung’s Lujhu District (路竹) triggered four generators at the Singda plant to go offline, cutting power output by 2.2 million kilowatts and prompting Taipower to initiate rolling blackouts nationwide as it worked on the problem. Taipower spokesman Chang Ting-shu (張廷抒) told a news conference in Taipei that