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President, Export Managers Assn.of California


With export issues suddenly the rage, Laura F. MacLellan has a leading role both as president of the 300-member Export Managers Assn. of California and as a vice president of Far East National Bank in Newport Beach. She comes well prepared. She graduated from top universities in Canada, France and England, worked as a Canadian diplomat in South America, speaks three languages and has penned two books, including one yet-unpublished tome on exporting. She spoke recently to Times staff writer Chris Woodyard.

What is the purpose of the Export Managers Assn.?

We help exporters learn and succeed. It's a self-support thing. We are advocates and try and represent exporters in general on federal, municipal and state levels to make sure that exporters are given a voice. Our membership is made up of manufacturers, export trading management companies, banks, insurance companies and freight forwarders.

How are you helping manufacturers?

A lot of manufacturers need to be educated on how to manage their exports, or they need to have a company manage the exports for them. They may not be able to afford an international marketing department or all the expertise you need to get the deal done.

Where can business people get export assistance?

There are excellent groups and excellent government services available. We have set up the first Small Business Development Center that relates to export. We get 500 people through our office a month in downtown Los Angeles at 110 E. 9th St. We are trying to bring a satellite office to Orange County.

How do you take care of business people who come in?

We help them determine what they need or what level of assistance they currently require. We are trying to isolate the ones that need just a little extra help, or maybe a lot of help, to get over a specific obstacle to make that export happen.

You have said that you are a little frustrated with the federal government's lack of participation in encouraging exports by local firms. How come?

We've been trying for years to get the federal government to acknowledge the existence of export management and export trading companies as a revenue generator for the balance of payments.

Has the federal government ignored the potential of export?

Attention is being focused in other areas. We're low on the power curve. We should have been way up there a long time ago. They are starting to wake up and smell the coffee. It's kind of a trendy, sexy idea to export.

Does the United States have an advantage in trading now that the dollar is weaker compared to other currencies?

We have an advantage with the dollar a little weaker. But what I think is happening is that people realize that the growing market is not at home anymore. Companies are waking up and saying: "Gee, 40% of my sales are overseas and I don't know how it happened. If I worked on this, I would even get it bigger."

How could the system be reformed to work better?

We need more collaboration between the private sector and government. Until now, the commercial sector has not needed export assistance. It has been able to live off the fat of the land. The big companies have had departments that could take advantage of programs out there. The little companies never knew about those programs, and didn't care. Now the little companies care and the government is starting to hear those cries for help.

What three things would you change to make the system more efficient?

I would want to see greater support of an export development bank, a bank that would have an ability to fund trade translations with the government behind it. It would be a quasi-government and privately run bank.

Second, I would change the banking regulations to mirror two of our greatest global competitors, Taiwan and Hong Kong, by liberalizing U.S. regulations regarding letters of credit. Hong Kong doesn't care if the trade is coming in or out, as long as it is happening. In the United States, a letter of credit is worthless until the transaction is completed. In Hong Kong, exporters there can get credit up to 90% of the face value of the letter of credit before the goods are shipped. That way, they need very little cash to do the same transactions someone here would do.

Lastly, I think we have to be more open-minded about legislating against imports, because retribution will follow at the other end. That can mean serious obstacles for exporters.

Are prospects dim for the passage of North American Free Trade Agreement?

It's all politics. I always say the only free trade agreement is where they take all the duties, tariffs and books and put them on the border, pour on some kerosene and light a match. That's free trade.

If the North American Free Trade Agreement does not pass, can the American economy still thrive?

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