Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Governors from both political parties expressed unease Thursday about the state-level impact of trade wars, as President Donald Trump’s foreign policy cast a long shadow over the start of a three-day gathering that has brought more than 1,500 people to New Mexico’s capital city.
Business executives and government officials from China and Japan also addressed trade issues – including tariffs imposed by Trump – during the opening day of the National Governors Association’s summer meeting.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the instability and uncertainty brought about by the tariffs is bad for business.
“You need predictability to make capital investments, to manage your payroll and to grow your business,” Hickenlooper told the Journal. “I don’t know a single governor who supports the trade war that’s beginning.”
Trump has imposed new tariffs on goods from several nations and withdrawn from trade agreements since taking office last year.
In recent weeks, the U.S. and China have slapped $34 billion worth of tariffs on each other’s goods in a back-and-forth dispute, which has threatened financial markets.
During panel discussions Thursday, governors and business executives alike said the trade disputes – and pointed rhetoric from the White House – were making foreign investors nervous.
“It behooves us all to work to communicate better,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said during a panel discussion on U.S.-Chinese economic ties. “It’s a matter of working together and developing trust.”
Japanese officials also spoke during Thursday’s NGA meeting. Kentaro Sonoura, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, lamented the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multination trade agreement the U.S. entered but then backed out of after Trump’s election.
In his comments, Sonoura expressed a fondness for beef from the United States, saying, “Our stomachs would be very happy” if the U.S. were to rejoin the trade deal.
Meanwhile, David Fernandes, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, which runs an engine plant that employs about 1,500 workers, said tariffs on Japanese automakers could lead to higher U.S. consumer costs – an estimated $1,800 for a new Toyota Camry, to be precise.
As the host of this year’s NGA summer meeting, Gov. Susana Martinez was busy Thursday meeting with foreign dignitaries and other attendees.
In fact, a Martinez spokesman said Thursday the governor was too busy to do an interview.
In a speech wrapping up one panel discussion, Martinez did not directly address the issue of tariffs but cited the importance of collaboration on economic development issues.
The two-term Republican governor also touted New Mexico’s business climate, saying her administration has worked to cut taxes and lessen onerous regulations. The state’s unemployment rate has decreased in recent months, but as of May was still the nation’s third-highest, at 5.1 percent.
“We have said we’re not going to make it more expensive (to do business in New Mexico) – we’re going to make it more attractive,” she said.
Both China and Japan are among the top 10 destinations for New Mexico exports, and several Japanese companies have set up shop in New Mexico. One such company, Mizkan Americas, in 2011 bought Deming-based Border Foods, one of the nation’s largest processors of green chile products.
The three-day conference runs through Saturday and features social outings in addition to the policy discussions. In all, roughly 20 governors are in town for the event.
There have also been rumors that White House officials could make an appearance – possibly Vice President Mike Pence – but there was no indication Thursday that such a visit might be imminent.
Meanwhile, nearly 100 people attended a Rally for Clean Air that started at the state Capitol and ended with a march to the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
The focus of the rally was to urge governors to invest their state’s share of $4.7 billion in settlements with Volkswagen for cheating on smog tests into zero-emission electric school buses.
“Each state has an opportunity to improve our children’s quality of life,” said Noe Orgaz, an organizer with Protégete, a Colorado-based Latino group that works against climate change. “Children are our most valuable asset. We must protect them from these emissions.”
The rally was part of the “Clean Buses for Healthy Niños” campaign by Juntos: Our Air, Our Water, which is supported by the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.
Organizers say governors need to prioritize the health of 25 million American children by replacing diesel school buses with electric buses. They say diesel buses expose children to pollutants and carcinogens and are a cause of asthma.
Martha Favela, of Albuquerque, said one of her three children suffers from asthma, and she blames it on school buses. She said her daughter has to take medicine, has trouble sleeping and has struggled in school because of the condition.
“Our kids go to school to learn, not to get sick,” said Favela, who now drives her children to three schools so they don’t have to ride buses.
Demonstrators, including several children wearing cardboard boxes made to look like school buses around their waists and wearing surgical masks over their faces, marched to the city’s convention center, where the NGA conference is based, chanting slogans along the way.