New Orleans, LA – Ambassadors from 35 countries were given two days' of tours of the New Orleans region that included banquets, flights over the wetlands and dinners in private homes. It was part of the "Experience America" program that began in 2007. Its goal is to strengthen social, economic and political bonds.
The ambassador to Chile, for instance, wanted information on the Port of New Orleans. Arturo Fermandois says business leaders in his country want to know why they're using East Coast ports when New Orleans is closer to Chile, and the US markets.
"From the embassy in Washington, D.C. we have a power of communicating to the Chilean business community - you know - the connections we are making. We're a far-away country but we are good partners of the US. And New Orleans and Louisiana is a land that we can really explore and take more advantage from."
The State Department arranged a visit to new homes being built in the Lower Ninth Ward. The city is anxious to show recovery from Hurricane Katrina along with the development of energy-efficient construction. Fermandois says Chile continues to recover from last year's earthquake, and needs ideas for replacing housing.
"We need to learn from New Orleans on how to build greener houses, cheaper houses and, you know, good styling houses for a better interaction with the community. And taking notes on that side from the city."
German Ambassador Peter Ammon says he enjoyed his first visit to New Orleans, and thinks his impressions should mean more money coming to the city.
"I know many investors in Germany in Europe and in America. And it has always been the same conclusion. Investment is not decided by computer. Investment is decided by humans. And humans really depend on the way we are received. When we feel that we are welcomed, that this is a city which is rebounding after natural catastrophes, then I think they will be much more willing to come an invest. This is a very important experience I have made here. "
Last year, Louisiana exports increased to more than $41 billion dollars - up nearly 27 percent from 2009.
A key representative in the recent visit was Korean Ambassador Han Duck-soo. The US and Korea have just signed a free trade agreement that's the biggest since the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994.
At a kick-off breakfast meeting, Duck-soo says Louisiana will benefit from the deal.
"I can promise you now that from next year - from January 1st, Korea-US trade agreements will go into effect. And I promise you that every year there will be at least one trade mission from Korea into New Orleans and into this state."
The State Department arranged previous visits to Alaska, California, Chicago, New York City and other regions. New Orleans was a destination requested by embassy officials. It ended with a river cruise for the ambassadors from the port of New Orleans on the Creole Queen, with dozens of local officials on board.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming