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Patrick travels to Latin countries for trade mission

As globalization tightens its grip on the world economy, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick traveled to Panama Monday for the start of a weeklong trade mission that will focus on forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones with business and government leaders in Panama and Mexico.

The trip, which will last from March 17 to March 22, brings together a delegation of 11 leaders working in business, science and technology fields in the Commonwealth, a March 10 press release said.

“Lasting growth in the 21st century global economy will come from our competitiveness in global markets and opening up Massachusetts to the markets where we share strengths,” Patrick said in the release. “The leaders in business and government and venture capitalists of Latin America’s growth centers are eager to collaborate with us because they recognize that Massachusetts is an innovation hub with a disciplined strategy for growth.”

Richard Elam, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment, is traveling with Patrick and said Massachusetts needs to create partnerships with other innovation-focused countries to grow the Commonwealth’s economy.

“The goal of all our innovation partnership missions is to develop economic relationships with countries around the world where we have common views regarding the importance of education, innovation and infrastructure as tools to create a strong economy,” he said in an email. “By forging relationships with like-minded partners around the world we believe we can enhance our economy even further by collaboration and mutual investment.”

Massachusetts annually exports $1.86 billion and imports $3.37 billion worth of goods to and from Mexico, making Mexico the state’s third largest trading partner. Patrick and his delegation are hoping to maintain and enhance the strong economic ties to Mexico, Elam said.

Patrick has become one of the most-traveled governors since taking office in 2006, having traveled to or sent delegates to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and Israel.

Krista Selmi, a spokeswoman at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said these trade missions allow Massachusetts to work with international partners and become a global leader in technology.

“For example, during a trade mission to Israel, Governor Patrick asked Secretary Sullivan to look into water innovation in Massachusetts,” she said. “Since then, Secretary Sullivan has focused on growing the water innovation industry here, which now has more than 300 companies in the Commonwealth.”

Through the trade missions, Patrick has also placed significant emphasis on the high-tech fields of clean energy and biotechnology, two areas in which Massachusetts excels.

John Harris, a Boston University professor of economics, said the trade missions serve as an attempt by the Patrick administration to leverage these strengths in order to grow the economy.

“Massachusetts has a higher ratio of exports to GDP than do most states and they’re concentrated in these tech fields,” he said. “The general belief is that these are areas where we have expertise and strength and trained people and entrepreneurial firms. So the idea [behind these trade missions] is to create greater demand for exports from Massachusetts and that will then create additional jobs and expansion of investment in those fields.”

Several residents said Patrick’s mission trip to Panama and Mexico would benefit the economy of Massachusetts and bring innovation to the region.

Sam Stone, 23, of Allston, said trade missions that focus on biotechnology are important for those fields to develop in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts is a hub of biotechs in the United States,” he said. “Just the sheer number of small biotech companies as well as some of the bigger ones are here. So it makes sense for him to go there and focus on that.”

John Conley, 44, of Fenway, said mission trips are useful, but Patrick should ensure that all partnerships forged on the trips are for the purpose of helping Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts has an advantage,” he said. “There are a lot of universities that are focusing their curricula on that [biotechnology]. He’s got to focus on ideas here in Massachusetts.”

Brendan Pierre, 20, of Back Bay, said traveling to other countries and creating international relationships is the best way to expand innovation in Massachusetts.

“Any way you can try to find innovative way to expand the economy and open up ways to provide more jobs is an effective strategy,” he said. “Creativity and ingenuity is what fuels the economy, so expanding to different areas like that is positive.”

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