DOUGLAS YOUNG Staff Reporter
L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who has been criticized for not doing enough to promote foreign trade, is expected this week to announce a new alliance between the city and the World Trade Center Association.
Under the alliance, the L.A. Harbor Department and Southern California Edison Co. will kick in a combined $100,000 per year to fund an L.A. export development office. The office will be run Tom Teofilo, president of the Greater Los Angeles World Trade Center Association.
The new export office to be located in downtown L.A.’s World Trade Center will be a referral center for existing state, federal and private trade programs already in the city. It also will complement those programs with select services of its own.
A Jan. 27 Business Journal story quoted L.A.-area trade executives as being critical of the Riordan administration’s trade policies. They specifically noted that the mayor had been reluctant to serve as a trade ambassador for the city.
But Barry Sedlik, manager of economic and business development at Southern California Edison, said Edison has been in talks with the mayor’s office over the new trade office for nearly two years.
“The city was not quite certain whether this was a service they should really provide,” Sedlik said. “They already have a Business Team, but most of its services are reactive they’re done after companies are already having trouble. This is a proactive measure on the city’s part.”
He added that Edison likes the project because the new trade office will be a valuable resource for local companies and give them another reason to stay in L.A.
Edison officials point to the experience of Teofilo, who oversees a similar trade development office in Long Beach.
“Tom is aware of what all the organizations do with respect to international trade and how this organization will complement those efforts,” Sedlik said.
Teofilo and the World Trade Center Association also will fill the role of providing a central person and organization to help L.A. businesses interested in pursuing foreign trade.
Riordan had previously named Tina Choi as L.A.’s director of international trade to fill such a role, but later eliminated the position, leaving the city without a point person or organization to promote foreign trade.
Choi, who had little experience in foreign trade, is now a member of the Business Team that works to help L.A. companies.
“If the World Trade Center Association will be like an advisory group, that would be fine. That is needed because there are already too many (foreign trade organizations),” said Carlos Valderrama, director of Latin American operations for the law firm of Carlsmith Ball Wichman Case & Ichiki, who has been critical of the mayor’s trade initiatives.
State Sen. Tom Hayden, a mayoral candidate, called the alliance an empty gesture by Riordan to placate critics of his lack of foreign trade initiatives.
Hayden, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement calling the alliance a “hollow and underfunded response to industry criticism that L.A. has fallen behind in foreign trade promotion since (Riordan) took office.”
Hayden was also critical of Riordan’s trade efforts during a recent interview with the Business Journal.
“His idea of trade has been the classic deal maker that views trade as a physical issue the port, the Alameda Corridor.”
Riordan campaign spokesman Todd Harris dismissed Hayden’s criticism.
“We prefer to let the facts speak for themselves, and the fact of the matter is that international trade through Los Angeles is up 15 percent from last year alone,” Harris said.
” For Senator Hayden who stood with Pat Buchanan in opposing NAFTA and GATT and has done everything possible to close our borders to suggest that the mayor’s record is anything but solid is the height of hypocrisy,” he added.