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SAN BERNANDINO, Calif. – In a twist of irony that finds some Americans critical of France because of its staunch opposition to the Iraqi war, nearly 50 business owners in the Southern California area are waiting to hear if they’ve made the cut to visit that country in an effort to build long-term business ties. Arrowhead Credit Union and the Center for Global Management at California State University-San Bernardino are sponsoring a 10-day trip to the French Riviera and Provence in the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles Sept. 5-14. Likewise, despite the spread of the severe acute respiratory (SARS) illness throughout parts of Asia, a second 10-day trip to the Shanghai and Shandong region of eastern China scheduled for July 1-10 is still on, said Mo Vaziri, professor of professor of accounting and finance at Cal State and director of the school’s Center for Global Management Both trips are designed to pair up business owners here in an area described as the Inland Empire with their counterparts overseas in an effort to tap the economic resources that may have been overlooked, Vaziri said. “We’re taking the high ground, over politics, by taking this trip to strengthen the relationship,” Vaziri said regarding France. “There’s certainly much interest from local firms to participate.” Indeed, at a March 27 luncheon hosted by Arrowhead with Chaffia Naturi, deputy director of the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce and Industry as the keynote speaker, nearly 50 business owners signed on to tour France and China, but Vaziri said logistics only allow for a total of 20 participants. For Arrowhead, which recently got approval to become a U.S. Small Business Administration lender, the trips could potentially be an international bridge from a region in California that is one the fastest growing sections of the state. “Typically, inland Southern California firms have made contacts with Latin America and now we have an opportunity to explore areas that aren’t traditionally looked at,” Larry Sharp, president/CEO, Arrowhead CU said. Talks to tour both countries began in August 2002 with Vaziri establishing several contacts in Marseilles through consultation work including a student exchange program that brought students to Cal State. Sharp got involved after a fact-finding business trip to the same city. Since December 2002, one of Arrowhead’s interns has been putting together brochures and other marketing materials for distribution to area business owners. Industries with the best trading potential to Shandong include technologies, logistics, pharmaceutical, beverage, manufacturing and import/export, Vaziri said, while those with the best export potential to France include technologies, import/export, food and beverage, logistics, the fashion industry and tourism. Both Sharp and Vaziri said there has also been discussion to build economic partnerships in North Africa, particularly in Tunisia and Morocco. “Those countries are working on trade agreements and they could potentially be areas with many opportunities,” Sharp said. Vaziri and Sharp envision that next year, the overseas business contacts from China and France will visit the Inland Empire. The cost of the China trip is $1,300, while the Marseilles trip is 1,550 euros. Both prices include airfare, hotels and some meals. Vaziri said a final decision will be made over the next few weeks to determine which of the 50 business owners will travel to both countries. Operation Iraqi Freedom, which President Bush has forewarned may take longer than expected, will hopefully be over by September, Vaziri said. “When we take the trip, this will probably be a memory. Level heads would say we have a lot in common with France,” he said. Vaziri said no one has expressed concern over the Asia illness and he is hoping that by July the virus will be contained. Sharp said the credit union’s role is to help bolster economic development in the areas that it serves. “This is a good way to extend our small business lending and business services,” Sharp said. “It will help make Arrowhead’s presence felt in the export community.” Vaziri said additional trip assistance will come from the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, Inland Empire International Business Association and the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center. -

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