Community Unites to Support Trade Office Bill

LOS ANGELES–The Armenian-American community has united in the wake of the recent news of Senate Bill 1657 (SB 1657) facing possible opposition in the California State Assembly.

SB 1657 was introduced by Senator Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) and aims to establish a California Trade Office in the Republic of Armenia to facilitate greater economic cooperation. SB 1657 passed unanimously in two Senate committees and the full Senate vote before being considered by the State Assembly. It is now up for discussion in the State Assembly Committee on Jobs–Economic Development and the Economy. The committee chairwoman Assemblymember Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno) voted against a similar bill last year and has expressed no support for the bill this time around.

Members of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) Board accompanied by Senator Scott met with Assemblymember Reyes earlier in June to discuss the bill. Assemblymember Reyes expressed having strong reservations about authorizing and funding an office in Armenia.

Numerous Armenian organizations have rallied and united in support of SB 1657 since the news of the potential demise of the bill was made public. The ANCA-WR–which has been the primary political voice and force pushing for establishment of the trade office–issued an action alert to its grass roots earlier this week calling on all community organizations to rally behind the bill. SB 1657 has appreciated widespread community support since its inception but over the course of the last week Armenian organizations and Armenian-Americans from all over the State of California have embraced the ANC’s call to action.

"We hope that our State Assembly members will heed the concerns of their Armenian-American constituents–who have for years now awaited the realization and establishment of better economic relations between California and Armenia," said Ardashes Kassakhian–Government Relations Director for the ANCA-WR. "The State Assembly and the members of the Assembly committee should see that this is something that is beneficial to California and something that would benefit a large portion of the citizens of California."

SB 1657 would have the trade office serve Armenia and surrounding Eastern European and Western Asian independent neighbors.

The aim of the proposal is for California to promote trade relations in developing areas of the world that show emerging market potential.

The State of California currently has trade offices in Germany–the United Kingdom–Hong Kong–Indonesia–Israel–Mexico–the Republic of South Africa–Taiwan–and Japan. Assemblymember Reyes has indicated reservations about establishing additional trade offices while the productivity and benefit of current trade offices has not been determined. But unlike other current trade offices–SB 1657 not only requires a comprehensive evaluation of the success of the regional trade office but it calls for new authorization by the State Government for the operation of the office beyond January 1–2006.

"The study of the office’s economic impact on the targeted areas of trade and commerce in California and the Trans-Caucusus region would be a model for other current and future trade offices," stated Steven J. Dadaian–Chairman of the ANCA-WR.

"We should not let this golden opportunity to build economic bridges with developing areas pass us by. Armenia is the only true democracy among the former Soviet Republics and continues to make great strides in its political and economic development.

The establishment of this trade office will not only benefit California but foster market oriented reforms in Armenia and other regional markets as well."

In 1991–Armenia was one of the first former Soviet Republics to gain its independence from the Soviet Union–and in addition was the first former Soviet Republic to privatize agriculture and continues to privatize small businesses and state-run enterprises. Armenia has made significant advancemen’s in computer technology and telecommunication–which can open new markets for California’s high-tech and biotech industries.

"Armenia’s high-quality and affordable high-tech and agricultural products should be especially attractive to California–considering the state’s large IT and agricultural markets.

Since 1994–Armenia has experienced an annual growth rate of over 6% and has cut annual inflation to the low single digits," said Joseph Simonian–community activist and International Relations and Finance Masters candidate at Columbia University.

Simonian–who has been working on a comparative study of former Soviet and Eastern block economies also said that "This [Armenia’s] rapidly growing economy is the most free-market oriented member of the CIS and can already claim to be one of the few economic successes of the former Soviet Union. With a large portion of the Armenian-American population residing in California–the ties that bind Armenia and California are strong indeed–and California is in a unique position to both gain from and contribute to Armenia’s growth."

SB 1657 will be discussed and potentially voted on in committee on Tuesday–June 25–2002.

The ANCA-WR has made the passage of the bill a top priority since its introduction and continues to remain actively involved in the process.

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