Villaraigosa to Travel to England, Then Visit Asia for a 16-Day Trade Mission

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, embarking on the first international forays of his year-old administration, will pay a short visit to England next week followed by a 16-day trade mission to Asia in October.

With the back-to-back trips, Villaraigosa will spend much of the next month away from Los Angeles.

The mayor travels first to London and Manchester, England, at the invitation of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who met Villaraigosa on a recent visit to California. He will talk about the city's efforts to address global climate change, anti-terrorism and Los Angeles' bid for the 2016 Olympics, according to information provided by his staff.

But it is the Asia trip — designed to boost commerce between Los Angeles and the Far East — that will dominate Villaraigosa's calendar and agenda through much of October.

The mayor, who is to announce his travel plans at a news conference today, will lead a delegation of city officials and leaders from the private and nonprofit sectors to China, South Korea and Japan.

He will make stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo and other cities, trying to drum up business for the Port of Los Angeles, the city's airports and its travel and tourism industry, according to some members of the delegation.

Among the deals in the works are plans to open a tourism and marketing office in Beijing to promote international flights and travel to Los Angeles.

Toward that end, the mayor is to meet with executives of major Asian airlines and is expected to see some of the world's newest and most technologically advanced airports with an eye toward rethinking the future of Los Angeles International Airport, say officials outside the mayor's office who are familiar with the travel plans.

"We're trying to maintain Los Angeles as a major port of entry so that LAX continues to be the gateway to Asia," said one airport official. "Airports are very competitive. We're the only one in the United States that has all four Chinese carriers coming into it."

Villaraigosa also is slated to discuss the city's efforts to clean up its pollution-producing port. That environmental initiative got a boost earlier this year when the largest shipping line in the world — Denmark-based Maersk Inc. — announced that it would use clean-burning, low-sulfur fuel in all its cargo vessels at the Port of Los Angeles and other California ports.

"We're tickled to death that the best sales person in the world, our mayor, is willing to call on some of our customers and bring the business and grow the business green," said S. David Freeman, president of Los Angeles' Board of Harbor Commissioners, who hopes to accompany Villaraigosa on part of the trip.

"There is no one who can be as persuasive as our mayor, not only because of the words he uses but he's the boss. People in the shipping business understand that fact."

Asia has become a regular travel destination for Los Angeles mayors.

Villaraigosa's predecessors — James K. Hahn and Richard Riordan — both led trade missions to China, Japan and other countries in the Far East to secure agreements with shipping companies, air carriers and other businesses.

Hahn spent 10 days in Asia, his first overseas mission, where he obtained important commerce deals but also encountered some disappointments: Officials had hoped to make progress on securing a pair of prized Chinese pandas but came away instead with a set of golden monkeys.

Riordan, on his way out of L.A., promised: "We'll come back with cash." He made good on the pledge. During 16 days abroad, Riordan completed a tentative deal with one of the world's largest shipping lines to extend its Port of Los Angeles lease.

Officials from those trips said, however, that the missions were successful not only because of new contracts and revenue for Los Angeles but also because of the more intangible goal of establishing relationships with business leaders and government officials that would prove fruitful in the future.

Villaraigosa may benefit from some of that groundwork when he brings his own sales pitch to the same countries.

His staff will release details today about some of the other deals in the works and the commercial and cultural ties they hope to establish with a region well recognized as a rising power in global business.


duke.helfand@latimes.com

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