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She says mission, her first to Asia since 2019, rekindled relationships dating back more than 30 years.

PMG FILE PHOTO: PETER WONG - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks Aug. 9 at Electric Island in North Portland during a visit by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Brown spoke with Oregon reporters Wednesday, Oct. 25, via video call from Tokyo near the close of her 12-day trade mission to Korea and Japan. Gov. Kate Brown says her recent 12-day trip will reinforce longstanding economic and other ties with Japan and South Korea, two of Oregon's largest trading partners, even as she leaves office in less than three months.

Brown said those ties go back more than three decades and are shared by governors of both parties, including Republican Vic Atiyeh, who was governor in the 1980s when Japanese companies began operations in Oregon.

Brown spoke to Oregon reporters via a video call from Tokyo, where it was early Wednesday, Oct. 26. Tokyo is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time. It was her first visit to Asia since 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic restricted international travel. China still has severe restrictions on travel.

"I think it is incredibly important at this point in my administration for us to reconnect with our partners in Japan and Korea to set up the ongoing relationships for the next administration," she said.

"I am confident that our visits here will continue to result in economic growth for both Oregon and the companies we are working with. What is most important about Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, is the fact that in order to do business, you have to develop personal relationships. While I certainly had the opportunity to do that in times past, given the break the pandemic caused, it was important to renew these friendships and rekindle economic development opportunities."

More than 150 Japanese companies operate in Oregon today.

The Oregon delegation included leaders from agriculture, tourism, higher education, apparel, technology, and manufacturing.

Based on 2021 gross domestic product, the United States ranked first, Japan third and Korea 10th in the world.

Japan was Oregon's sixth largest export market, and Korea fourth in 2021. According to data compiled by the Oregon Employment Department and the U.S. International Trade Administration, Oregon's top five trading partners in 2021 were in descending order China — the largest by far at more than $10 billion — Canada, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. For the United States as a whole, they were Canada, Mexico, China, Korea and Germany.

Oregon is the 18th largest exporting state with a total of $29.6 billion in 2021, up $4.7 billion from the previous year. It ranked 25th in 2012.

"We were only one of six states to see positive export growth during the pandemic," Brown said. "It is critically important because Oregon is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country."

Semiconductors future

Computers and electronic products accounted for the largest share of Oregon's total exports at nearly 50%.

Brown said she and other Oregon representatives discussed semiconductor research and manufacturing in Japan and Korea, and the prospects for shared business.

She met executives from Hitachi, which last month opened a nanotechnology innovation center in Hillsboro — it is associated with Intel's research and development plant, opened six months ago, at the Ronler Acres campus — and Yamato Transport, which provides transportation options for Japanese and Asian companies in the Northwest.

"There are huge opportunities to partner with Japan in semiconductors," she said, given recent federal legislation that provides $52 billion in incentives for domestic manufacturing — and billions more for a wide range of scientific research.

"In Japan, it was clear that when our semiconductor industry is doing well, the Japanese businesses that are engaged in this sector also benefit. Hitachi is a great example of that."

The Oregon group also met with representatives from Nikon, AGC Inc., Fujitsu, Fujibo Holdings, Gigaphoton, Showa Denko, Kioxia, Lasertec, the Semiconductor Equipment Association of Japan, and the Japan External Trade Association.

Brown was more vague about what Koreans plan, only that there would be follow-up calls.

She said she was implementing the recommendations Aug. 17 of a task force led by her, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Maria Pope, chief executive of Portland General Electric. Among the recommendations were expediting state review of environmental permits and doing more to prepare industrial sites for manufacturing. She said her recommended 2023-25 budget will contain money to do that work.

The next governor, who takes office Jan. 9, can propose changes to the budget by Feb. 1. The Legislature has the final say.

Other ties

Agriculture was not forgotten. Brown said fresh blueberries were a big hit in Korea, and Oregon producers discussed a potential expansion to blackberries and raspberries.

She participated in a media availability at PDX Taproom, a Tokyo business that sells exclusively Oregon craft beer, with Travel Oregon chief executive Todd Davidson and Japanese media to discuss tourism opportunities in Oregon.

She also visited Kagurazaka Rouge, a Tokyo wine bar that sells wines from the Northwest, with Oregon Wine Board President Tom Danowski.

Brown also spent some time in Toyama Prefecture, whose governor of two years, Hachiro Nitta, visited Oregon in August. The sister-state relationship goes back three decades.

She led a women's leadership roundtable with the vice governor of Toyama, Mika Yokota, and women leaders from Oregon and Toyama.

Brown said the Oregon-Japan relationship goes beyond economic ties. She said one woman at the leadership meeting held a 29-year-old photo of herself sitting at the desk of the governor's ceremonial office at the Capitol in Salem.

"She did not know where she was at the time, because she was a young girl," Brown said. "Now she is a grown woman and she still has that photo. That is the level the Japanese treasure their relationship with Oregonians and Americans."

Nitta, years before he became governor of Toyama Prefecture, recalled smoking with Atiyeh. (Atiyeh quit smoking about two decades before his death in 2014 at age 91.)

Atiyeh made nine trips to Japan before seeing the first results of his efforts. But between 1984 and 1986, the final two years of his governorship, NEC, Epson and Fujitsu had acquired land in Washington County. He is credited with opening Oregon to international trade. The international arrivals terminal at Portland International Airport is named in his honor. Brown said there will be flights between Portland and Haneda airport, which serves Tokyo, and Portland and Incheon airport, which serves Seoul, Korea.

"Gov. Atiyeh was responsible for Oregon's tremendous relationship with Japan," Brown said.

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