Trade officials from China to visit Baltimore this week


The scheduled visit of 11 Chinese trade officials to Baltimore this week is a sign that commerce between the United States and China continues despite recent tension over the deadly collision of a Chinese jet fighter and a Navy spy plane.

The Maryland Port Administration hopes to persuade officials from the port city of Xiamen to make Baltimore their main East Coast port of entry for clothing and other goods.

Chen Conghui, the deputy mayor of Xiamen, is expected to meet with state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and other officials during a welcoming ceremony tomorrow at the World Trade Center on the Inner Harbor.

"They are on a mission to find a port, and we are one of the ports they are visiting," said Kate Philips, port administration spokeswoman. "We would certainly be pleased if they chose Baltimore."

The two-day visit is the most recent contact between Baltimore and Xiamen officials as part of a 16-year-old "sister city" relationship that former mayor Schaefer helped establish in 1985, said Tzu Ming Yang, chairman of the Baltimore Xiamen Sister City Committee.

In the past, exchanges between the cities have focused mostly on culture and education. But in recent years, the emphasis has shifted toward encouraging trade.

"Historically, some of the biggest fortunes in Baltimore were made through trade with China," said Joseph C. Garland, a Baltimore lawyer who volunteers on the sister city committee.

Tensions between the two countries have been high since a Navy EP-3 surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter April 1, killing the pilot of the Chinese plane and forcing the U.S. plane to land on a Chinese island, where its 24 crew members were held for 10 days. Trade continues between the countries, despite President Bush's expressions of displeasure over how long the Chinese kept the U.S. crew members.

About 50 Maryland companies conduct business in China, exporting telecommunications devices, airport equipment, wood products and other goods, said Fontaine Bell, manager of the international banking group of Allfirst, which is based in Baltimore.

Allfirst, formerly known as First National Bank of Maryland, invests about $50 million a year financing trade between China and the United States, Bell said. The bank has done business in China since 1980, when former Gov. Harry R. Hughes helped to establish a "sister state" relationship with the Anhui province in eastern China, Bell said.

"I have been involved in business relationships with China for 20 years, and there have been ups and downs - for example, during the Tiananmen Square [protests]," Bell said. "Both sides persevere because they realize that there are great benefits of a positive trade relationship."

Owners of Maryland companies who would like to do business in Xiamen are invited to a reception and dinner from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the World Trade Center. Cost is $45. Call Tzu Ming Yang at 443-253-4929.

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