With violence escalating, O’Malley postpones next week’s Mideast trade mission -- Gazette.Net


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Citing the weeklong armed conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Tuesday postponed the state’s economic development mission to the Mideast, which had been scheduled for next week.

The governor had planned to lead a delegation of more than 40 business, elected, civic and university leaders on the eight-day mission, which would include stops in Israel, Jordan and Ramallah. Maryland announced the mission in September.

“After many days of monitoring the situation in the Middle East, I’ve decided to reschedule. ... Not wanting to be a distraction from the urgent cause of peace, I look forward to visiting Israel in the months ahead with Maryland business, research and academic leaders, O’Malley said in a statement.

“For now, we join with our Israel and Palestinian neighbors in praying for a cease-fire and peaceful resolution to the conflict,” he said Tuesday.

Media reports Wednesday of a cease-fire agreement will not change O’Malley’s plans to postpone the mission, spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.

For the past week, Israel and Hamas have engaged in military actions over the long-embattled Gaza Strip, resulting in more than 100 deaths. According to published reports, Israel has massed troops in preparation for a possible ground attack of the Palestinian territory.

Guillory said the Mideast trade trip probably will not occur until after the 2013 General Assembly session ends in April at the earliest, because the state usually schedules such trips during holiday seasons.

Many Israeli business executives see Maryland as a place to be near federal agencies and businesses using Israeli-based technologies, said Micha Auerbach, CEO and founder of Hi-G-Tek in Rockville. Hi-G-Tek monitors cargo and assets for military and commercial clients and delivers reports on cargo location and condition.

Auerbach moved Hi-G-Tek from Israel to Rockville in 2006, with help from Montgomery County.

“Whoever wants to work with the government looks at Maryland,” he said. “It’s why they don’t go to Silicon Valley in California or Boston. A lot of the larger system integrators like Lockheed Martin are here.”

He agreed with O’Malley’s decision to postpone the trip. While some areas of Israel are carrying on with business as usual, Auerbach said, most of the nation’s attention is on finding a resolution to the conflict and officials will not feel free and open to deal with business development issues.

This would have been the latest in a string of foreign trade missions that O’Malley has led. His last missions to Asia last year yielded $145 million in trade and investment deals for Maryland and participating companies, according to state information. It also would have been O’Malley’s second trade mission to Israel since 2008.

Israel was Maryland’s 47th-largest trading partner last year, with $48.8 million in product exports to Israel, mostly chemicals, transportation equipment and computer, electronic and electric products. The country had a gross domestic product of $237 billion in 2011, about $31,500 per capita, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. It imported $72.03 billion in products and services in 2011.

“What’s going on is very complicated,” Guillory said of the current Mideast situation. “We’re hoping for some resolution before we set up another trip.”

She said details about the trip’s participants will become available once the mission is rescheduled.

Barry Bogage, CEO of the Maryland Israel Development Center in Baltimore, is a leading force behind the trip. He could not be reached for comment.

lrobbins@gazette.net