The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Lame duck LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa travels to China on a trade mission

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Antonio Villaraigosa will step down as L.A. mayor next month, but not before he goes on a trip to encourage more trade, tourism and business from China.

Villaraigosa, along with officials from the Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles World Airports and the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, will go on a business trip to Beijing from May 26 to 29. But the cost isn't cheap – the trip for the delegation of 10 people is about $80,000.

The Port of L.A. and the Los Angeles World Airports is footing the bill with no taxpayer money. Villaraigosa said the business trip is important.

"Promoting trade, tourism and foreign direct investment is critical," Villaraigosa said.

The last time the mayor was in China was in 2011. Gov. Jerry Brown was also on a trade mission in China last month, but the Port of L.A. said this trip is different.

Stephen Cheung, the port's director of international development, said the trip is L.A.-focused. Unlike the governor's trade mission, port and airport officials will be meeting directly with their customers. Cheung said the port is facing global competition on a daily basis, especially with the Panama Canal expansion project.

"The changing dynamics of the trading industry [have] put a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles region," Cheung said.

But there’s a notable person missing from the group – Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti, who wasn't invited. 

Cheung said competition from other ports and cities is so rampant that the group couldn’t afford to wait.

“If we wait for the next mayor to basically come up with a full plan, we don’t know whether that’s going to be three months, six months or a year before we can travel," Cheung said. "Meanwhile, other cities are going there on a regular basis to attract business. If they are able to secure a deal before us, there’s a possibility they may move their business elsewhere and not to Los Angeles, so this is something we can’t risk.” 

Yong Chen, a UC Irvine history professor, said if it was up to him, he would try to involve the mayor-elect.

"The new mayor will be responsible for many issues involved in the economic interactions within the region," Chen said.

But the professor said he believes the business trip can still be successful with Villaraigosa attending. Cheung said Villaraigosa's presence helped the group get access to higher level Chinese government officials. 

China did more than $159 billion in trade with the L.A. Customs District last year, according to the mayor's office. 

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