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Villaraigosa: L.A. Must Improve Trade With Asia

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city must be more engaged in  global markets, emphasizing the importance of trade to reboot the economy at a forum at USC Wednesday.

“I would be traveling even more to Asia," Villaraigosa said of what he wished he'd done differently as mayor, "to China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Mexico, Latin America, Brazil than I have previously.”

The forum, Going Global: Boosting The Economic Future of Greater Los Angeles, served as the kickoff event of the joint Global Cities Initiative between the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The five-year project aims to equip city leaders in the U.S. to strengthen the regional economies by meeting demand abroad and attracting global capital and talent at home.

As the economy continues its slow recovery, Villaraigosa said the focus should shift from short-term damage control toward a goal of long-term prosperity. He said a crucial element of that prosperity would be found in exports. The mayor pointed out U.S. exports two years ago totalled about $1.28 trillion in goods—90 percent of which originated in L.A. But less than 1 percent of the 30 million active American companies export.

“Even those companies who do export are not fully realizing the potential of the global market,” Villaraigosa said. “The majority of these companies, a full 58 percent, only export to one country.”

He also expressed frustration among some city mayors about the bureaucracy in national leadership. “The federal government needs to get out of the way if they can’t do their job and allows cities like us to help to bring back the U.S. economy,” Villaraigosa said. 

To boost L.A.'s recovery, he proposed repairing bridges, roads and highways, expanding public transportation systems, and to accelerating the local mass transit through federal bonds and loans.

Villaraigosa said L.A. could take better advantage of its status as the 17th largest economy in the world. The city, he said, is the gateway to rising economies like Asia and Latin America, a point he made clear to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during his visit last month.

During the forum, concern about Chinese intellectual property violations arose. A significant portion of L.A.'s export come through the entertainment industry. Zhang Shaogang, minister counselor of the Chinese embassy, said protecting intellectual property has become a top priority of the Chinese government, and that citizens can file complaints with the Chinese government or in court.

Villaraigosa seemed encouraged that relations with China would only improve in the future. “My focus with Chinese officials is developing a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual benefits," he said. "The fact is, we can solve a lot of these challenges working together."

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