Two of Oklahoma's international trade offices close

Friday, November 5th 2004, 6:13 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Commerce Department has closed international trade offices in Europe and South Korea because of budget constraints.

The department's plans to close a third trade office, in Vietnam, were rescinded at the request of several companies. The state continues to maintain trade offices in China, Mexico and the Middle East.

Commerce Secretary Kathy Taylor said the intent was to focus ``on the offices that have the greatest likelihood of increasing exports from Oklahoma.''

The offices, staffed by independent contractors, promote Oklahoma products and encourage foreign investment in the state. Oklahoma taxpayers are spending $232,000 this year on the remaining four offices, down from $430,000 in the 2003-2004 fiscal year.

The state's top export official, Michael P. Hughes, resigned in July from his post of director of export solutions at the Commerce Department.

Barry Clark, the former director of international trade offices, is now interim director of export solutions.

``Our big mandate is helping these companies get export ready,'' Clark said Thursday. ``We have to help these companies discover those markets and then how best to enter those markets. With the four trade offices, we really have pretty good coverage around the world.''

Officials at the export solutions department are hoping to secure funding in the upcoming 2005-06 budget to help Oklahoma exporters attend international trade shows.

Companies that meet the criteria will be given a matching grant of up to $3,000 to attend the shows.

``It will help them to prepare their marketing material and their export programs so we can see sales and the benefits of that almost immediately,'' Clark said.

Allegations of financial mismanagement plagued the trade offices during Gov. Frank Keating's administration. A 2002 state auditor's report faulted a former European trade representative for inadequate documentation and ``unallowable'' expenses.

Officials did not renew the contract of the Netherlands-based representative, Frank Roovers. In fall 2003, the Commerce Department re-bid the contracts for the international trade offices.

Under the renewed contracts, the department said it would ``be placing particular importance on accountability and execute frequent evaluations of performance.''