October 22, 2007

Armenia trade office gets axed

Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed Senate Bill 515, that would have extended the statutory sunset for the privately funded California trade office in Armenia until 2010. This will possibly end California’s experiment with privately funded, but officially sanctioned trade offices in foreign countries. California eliminated all its official foreign trade offices in 2003 after an Orange County Register investigative reporter found them to be greatly exaggerating, and in some cases completely fabricating success stories related to their own performance. At about the same time, a proposal for a privately funded trade office was pushed through the State Legislature by the State’s powerful Armenian community, and a small trade promotion office was established in Yerevan, Armenia. While the office received no State Government funding, it was officially sanctioned and the California Business Transportation and Housing Department was charged with oversight of the program. A recent performance review of the Armenia trade office by this agency found its performance to be mediocre at best and noted that the office had not been able to meet investment targets for its own funding, and could only identify one significant deal it had facilitated.

Filed under Armenia, California Government, Governor Schwarzenegger by

July 23, 2007

Armenia Trade Office criticized

The Los Angeles Times has published a highly critical review of California’s sole international trade offices- a privately fund office for the small country of Armenia. The California-Armenia Trade Office in Yerevan is a legacy of a confused period for the State in international business development as lawmakers struggle to determine the proper role of the Government in this area. At the time when the Legislature was closing the other trade offices, California’s influential Armenian-American community convinced then to accept private funding in exchange for official status and recognition.

Critics consider it ludicrous to put the state’s sole overseas trade office in such a small and isolated country. If California were a nation, it would have the world’s eighth-largest economy, they note. Armenia ranks 128th. The contract with the state required a minimum of $150,000 (amount of business) for 2006, a June 30 report from the Schwarzenegger administration to the Legislature said. The report cited only one significant achievement, a deal between a North Hollywood spirits importer and Safeway to market a high-end Armenian vodka. “It appears the trade office did not successfully complete any of the priorities set forth in the contract,” read a letter signed by Dale E. Bonner, secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which oversees the trade office.

What’s more, critics warn that bureaucrats in Sacramento don’t have the money to effectively supervise the operations of a faraway entity. Bonner noted in his letter that the Scott legislation did not provide “budget authority for direct supervision or ongoing oversight.” As a result, the state could be legally liable for any misconduct by unsupervised representatives working in a part of the world not known for especially honest or stable governments. “This is an invitation to a scandal,” said Jock O’Connell, a veteran trade consultant in Sacramento. “They’ve created a system that allows a private company to obtain for a ridiculously small amount of money the right to represent California commercial interests in a distant country, while effectively prohibiting any state agency from looking into the activities of the people who are representing us overseas.”

Filed under Armenia, California Government, California Legislature by

May 1, 2007

California-Armenia Trade Office names Executive Director

Due to some strange politics, California has only one legal foreign trade office and it is in Yerevan, Armenia of all places. They have just named an Executive Director for the non-profit organization that manages this trade office:

Entrepreneur and long-time business consultant Johnny Nalbandian was named by the Foundation for Economic Development as the Trade Specialist for the California Trade Office of Yerevan, Armenia last month… The initiative to form CATO was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in September 2005. With an office already established in Yerevan, CATO is once again expanding operations with the addition of Nalbandian in Los Angeles…. Nalbandian, who grew up in Los Angeles, has become a successful and highly demanded business consultant and marketer. His private firm J III & Co. is based in Commerce, CA. For the past four years, Johnny has advised businesses of all industries and sizes regarding expansion, trade, and investment opportunities. “My dream,” notes Johnny, “is to introduce California-based businesses to new market opportunities so that we can both strengthen there foundations while play a leading role in the development of these emerging economies.”

“Given its current economy and geography,” Nalbandian believes, “Armenia is the perfect gateway to the regions served by the office. This frontier of opportunities for California’s businesses and investors are endless.”

CATO began its work in October 2005 under the auspices of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and is California’s only foreign trade representation. The bill authorizing its creation was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the California State Assembly and Senate. Serving the greater Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and former Soviet States, CATO is operated by a California-based non-profit organization called the Foundation for Economic Development, for which Nalbandian serves as the new Executive Director.

Filed under Armenia, International Development by

April 25, 2007

Demonstrators remember Armenian genocide

“Armenians and their supporters gathered on the streets of Hollywood today to commemorate the 92nd anniversary of one of the first acts of genocide in the 20th century. ‘We are recalling the attack on the night of April 24, 1915, when, in Istanbul, the leaders of the Armenian community were executed,’ Haig Hovsepian, community relations director for Armenian National Committee of America Western Region, said this afternoon. Hovsepian described the act as the beginning of years of violence against the Armenian community by Turks. An estimated 1.2 million were killed between 1915 and 1918, the last days of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Turkey maintains that the deaths were not sanctioned by the government and disputes that a genocide took place. Even though the violence took place early in the past century, its commemoration has continued to be laden with political overtones. Los Angeles police estimated that the crowd along Fairfax Avenue at about 1,000 protesters, but Hovsepian said he thought it was double or triple that number this afternoon and growing as the demonstration neared the Turkish Consulate in Hollywood. Thousands also marched earlier in the day. The demonstrations were peaceful with no arrests or traffic disruption, said LAPD spokeswoman Officer Karen Smith.”

Filed under Armenia, Foreign Relations by

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