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By The Skanner News
Published: 17 May 2006

Vicente Fox

OLYMPIA—When Mexican President Vicente Fox visits Washington state, he will meet the state's business elite at Seattle's tony Rainier Club, but also get his shoes dirty by traipsing around a Yakima Valley farm.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's office released the itinerary for Fox's visit next Wednesday and Thursday, describing it a well-rounded, whirlwind tour of town and country, with plenty of opportunity to meet Mexican nationals who have become a key part of the state economy.

"We're getting our money's worth out this trip," enthused Antonio Ginatta, the governor's Equadorian-born policy adviser. "He's getting to see all the different aspects of our state."

With a national debate raging over immigration policy, Fox and Gregoire are anxious to present a positive view of how Mexican immigrants sustain the state's agriculture and contribute in other business and civic endeavors, Ginatta said in an interview Friday.

"The timing of the visit while the immigration debate occurs in the Senate is opportune," he said.

Gregoire was one of the first governors to strongly defend a guest-worker program that would permit illegal immigrants to stay, with a path toward citizenship created.

Gregoire, who currently is on vacation in New Zealand, also has endorsed stronger border security and on Friday said she can accept President Bush's compromise plan, which includes use of National Guard troops along the Mexican-U.S. border.

"I have maintained that the best way to permanently secure our nation's borders is with a fully trained and staffed border patrol," she told The Associated Press in a statement relayed by her staff.

"I support the president's proposal as a temporary fix."

Ginatta said Gregoire assumes that the Washington National Guard would remain under her control and that guardsmen could be recalled if the state faced a bad wildfire season.

He said Fox's unhappiness with a militarized border shouldn't cause friction with Gregoire.

"There are more similarities in their positions than differences," he said.

Bill Stafford, president of the Trade Development Alliance in Seattle, agreed. "Coming to Washington puts the spotlight on a positive place in the United States where there has been immigration that has really worked and been accepted," he said.

Mexico is emerging as a major trading partner for Washington, going from a "blip" on the business charts to a Top 10 partner, Stafford said.

Fox has picked a smart itinerary, touching bases with both business leaders and Latinos, he said.

"When the president of Ireland came last year, she made a point to visit Irish workers at Microsoft and Fox is meeting with the Hispanic community here. It's a good business bridge, like the Chinese know."

He said Fox will be more interested in promoting Mexico's exports and lining up investment in his country than in Washington imports.

The visit begins in Yakima on Wednesday. Arriving from Utah, he and Gregoire will meet with farm workers and tour G&G Orchards.

The governor and Fox and his delegation then fly to Boeing Field in Seattle, where a gathering of the Mexican community of Washington is planned at the Westin Hotel, followed by a dinner hosted by the governor and the Centro Mexicano del Estado de Washington.

On Thursday, he has breakfast with Washington business leaders and tours SeaMar Community Health Center, which provides health care for migrant workers and poor immigrants.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Seattle host a lunch in his honor at the Rainier Club, a swank business club founded by the old-money set.

He completes his U.S. trip by heading to California.

It is Fox's first official visit to Washington. He scheduled appearances here in 2002, but the Mexico Senate blocked his foreign trip that year, demanding that he spend more time on domestic issues.

Gregoire invited Fox last May and followed up with a letter in late January. At the time, she said she will introduce Fox to top executives of Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines and other businesses and universities with connections to Mexico.

The visit follows one by China's President Hu and Gregoire's own trade mission to Australia and New Zealand. She will visit Korea and Taiwan this fall. She toured China and Japan last October.

Gregoire said Mexico is one of Washington's most important trading partners, importing almost $1 billion worth of Washington products last year, including planes, farm and paper products, computers and electronics.

Mexico is Washington's No. 1 export market for apples.

Washington has a trade office in Mexico City and a sister state relationship with Jalisco. Many Washington colleges have student and faculty exchange programs with universities in Mexico.

The state has about 500,000 Hispanic residents, most of Mexican lineage.

— The Associated Press

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