Montana News

Dec 22, 2013 12:20 AM by Sanjay Talwani - MTN News

Baucus in China could help Montana commerce

HELENA - President Barack Obama plans to nominate U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) to be the nation's next ambassador to China.

"Max Baucus is going to be an outstanding ambassador to China and I'd like a swift confirmation," Obama said Friday in response to a question on how the appointment would impact his plans for tax reform.

Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had recently launched an effort toward a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code. That committee also oversees trade and tariff issues, and Baucus has a lengthy relationship with Chinese trade and diplomatic leaders.

Webb Scott Brown, executive director of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said Baucus' appointment will be good for Montana and the nation.

"We're excited about the opportunity for Montana to have someone of Max's stature on the world stage," he said.

He called it a great opportunity to get Montana's name and products out into the world, leading not just to enhanced trade but also gains in tourism, investment and study by foreign students at Montana universities.

He said the trade opportunities go beyond the well-known commodities such as coal and grain.

"Montana has a lot of things that the world is looking for," he said. "We always think of niche products, like environmental engineering, and we know that there's opportunities for application of that in China."

He also said Baucus has been focused on keeping trade fair, with protections for copyrights and patents, for example.

"So it's not just that we're going to throw our people out there to the wolves," Webb said. "It is going to be us playing on a level playing field with Chinese counterparts."

The United States-China relationship is one of the world's most important bilateral relationships," Baucus said.

"It's an honor to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Mike Mansfield. Mike worked to strengthen and improve America's important relationships throughout Asia and I'll strive to do the same."

Mansfield, a longtime U.S. Senator, served as ambassador to Japan during the Carter and Reagan Administrations.

The post requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which is widely expected to proceed without major difficulty. Most such approvals have taken a few months at minimum, so Baucus could remain in the Senate for a while. He had already announced he would not seek re-election in 2014.

Once Baucus resigns from the Senate, Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT) will have the authority to appoint a new senator.

He has not indicated whether he plans to name Lt. Gov. John Walsh, whom he has already endorsed in the 2014 election, or a "caretaker" senator who does not plan to run for a full six-year term.

"Today is about Max, his commitment to public service and the state of Montana," Baucus spokesman Kevin O'Brien said in an email. "It appears there will be a vacancy in the U.S. Senate and the Governor will ensure that Montana is well represented."

The current ambassador to China, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, has said he plans to step down next year.

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