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Wash. governor to Mexico for trade trip

OLYMPIA, Wash. --Gov. Chris Gregoire has chosen Mexico, an increasingly important trading partner, as her south-of-the-border destination for her sole 2007 international trade mission.

Gregoire said this week that she'll be looking for expanded two-way trade, tourism and investment when she leads a delegation to Mexico City and Guadalajara on July 9-13. Then-President Vicente Fox invited her to Mexico when he visited Seattle and Yakima last May.

"Mexico has moved onto our Top 10 list of trading partners and it is a huge potential market for our agricultural products and, of course, for our aerospace companies," the governor said in an interview.

"Costco and Starbucks are huge in Mexico and they want to partner more with the coffee trade. And we want to deal with barriers to some of our agricultural products, such as our apples.

"I also want to talk with them about education, particularly with so many of our students being Latino, 82 percent of them from Mexico."

Gregoire said she's making her first trip to Mexico and will be among the first-week passengers for a new direct flight from Seattle-Tacoma to Mexico City. She said she'll promote two-way tourism and more direct flights, including a Seattle-Guadalajara connection.

Despite the obvious affinity between the state and Mexico, "We haven't paid enough attention to Mexico," the governor said.

Usually, Washington governors focus on Asia-Pacific trade.

The trade trip is Gregoire's fifth trade mission since taking office in 2005, and her 10th nation to visit. She has visited France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan.

Gregoire also has begun exchange visits with British Columbia leaders. She took her cabinet to Vancouver, B.C., last year and will host Premier Gordon Campbell and his ministers in Seattle on June 7-8.

The Mexico trip will include meetings with national government officials in Mexico City; promotional events for cherries, wine, french fries and other Washington products; signing of an agreement with Mexico's secretary of foreign affairs; a reception at the U.S. ambassador's residence, sessions to promote tourism; and meetings with the governor of Jalisco and other leaders in Guadalajara.

The governor will be accompanied by the state agriculture and trade directors, Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, and representatives from higher education, commodity commissions, ports and businesses, including Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Microsoft Corp., Weyerhaeuser Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Gregoire said Mexico is the second-largest U.S. trading partner and moved up to No. 10 on the list of Washington's top export markets last year, with exports reaching $1.3 billion, a 36 percent increase over 2005. Aerospace exports alone accounted for $700 million last year.

Washington shipped more than $200 million in food products to Mexico last year. Mexico is Washington's top importer of apples, with a trade value of $128 million last year. Fresh potatoes, French tries, pears and dairy products, cherries and other fruits and vegetables, wine and processed foods also sell well.