A sudden and unilateral decision by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to close the Montana trade office in Taiwan has sparked a furor in Taiwan and the US state, with legislators and the Montana Chamber of Commerce scrambling to come up with a solution.
In an abrupt announcement on Wednesday, Schweitzer said that as part of a cost-cutting program, the trade office would be closed and that in lieu virtual offices in three locations — Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong — would be launched. Schweitzer said it cost US$90,000 annually to employ a full-time representative in the office, which was opened in 1988. Local phone numbers would still be answered by a receptionist working on contract, he said, who would then transmit requests and messages to state officials.
Critics were quick to pounce on the governor, who has spoken proudly of his accomplishments in slimming down government.
Montana Senate President Jim Peterson said Schweitzer had made the decision alone, without consulting legislators, the business community or the Taiwanese government. “This is a longstanding relationship that deserves greater discussion than a spur-of-the-moment decision by the governor,” CBS News quoted Peterson as saying.
The announcement comes as Schweitzer has been courting Chinese investors to fund a US Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified facility in Shelby, along the Canadian border, which would process 1.2 million hogs annually and employ 500 people.
My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.