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Priya Guha

British Consul on Idaho exports, GMOs and 'sticky wickets'

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Priya Guha, British consul general for Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and northern California, is the first woman to hold the position. During a recent trip to the Gem State, where she met with leaders of state government, industry and education, Boise Weekly sat down with Guha to talk about massive trade agreements, student exchanges and Idaho goods making their way to the U.K.

Were you always interested in going into diplomacy?

Well that's a funny story. I have no real historical connection to the world of diplomacy. My father is from India; my mom's from the U.K. He was in business; she was a teacher. And actually, until I was about 16, I wanted to be an astronaut. So that was sort of my life plan.

[But] I ended up studying international politics at university. As part of that opportunity I did an undergraduate "attachment," sort of like an internship, at the Foreign Office in China. I worked at the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing back in the day [1995], and that was such a great experience. And so I thought I'd try my luck. I applied for the Foreign Office and got in. I've been here ever since.

Did you know anything about Idaho growing up?

Idaho just really wasn't on my horizon.

And what have you learned about Idaho since you got the job?

There's nothing that you can experience better about a state than actually being here, talking to people, getting a feel for what's on people's minds. Even just looking at a city like Boise, which is obviously going through lots of development.

You like to ski, yes?

I love to ski and have two boys who love to be outside.

What are your priorities for this visit?

We're always looking at business-to-business links and connections, so looking at where Idaho businesses are looking to expand globally, and when they're looking to go to the U.K., what we might be able to do to support them.

What kind of products are being exported from Idaho to the U.K.?

A large majority of the exports are around the semiconductor space. After that, it's mining.

Not ag?

At the moment, ag isn't a large export, but we think that could change with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Why do you think TTIP is important?

It's not the average trade agreement. It's a trade agreement that's looking at not only tariffs, but market access and regulation. We think it could increase Idaho's exports to the EU by about 24 percent. And obviously once exports are increasing, that increases growth for that company, and brings jobs with it.

One of our largest exports, though, is agriculture. And GMOs are used here, which would not be acceptable to the EU. So isn't that one of the controversies?

But both sides have come to the table, and are having negotiations about agriculture. Those negotiations are happening in private, so I'm not party to the detail of what they're discussing.

It just seems like it's a real sticky wicket.

Now you're using the British expressions.

There are also concerns of using arbitration panels to resolve disputes instead of courts.

I think where we are is that everyone recognizes that the prize is huge. We think a TTIP agreement could average out more than $800 per American family. Just because of the increase in exports, the increase of wealth, the job creation. That's a huge prize.

Some people are scared of these huge trade agreements.

I think conversely, barriers to trade are more of an inhibitor for free market growth.

And your other priorities?

The one area there that's a focus for us is increasing the student exchanges. And so one of the things that we're talking to Boise State about is how we might support their study abroad program more.

These are normally four-year positions, which would mean your term would be up in 2015. What's next for you?

I have pushed mine out to five. We just enjoy it so much. The boys are really happy and they enjoy what the region has to offer. My husband is an avid sportsman, cyclist, Ironman, so he gets out and about and does his stuff.

And what do you like about this region?

It is beautiful, for a start. What you can do as a tourist in states like Idaho is unsurpassed. The people ... have universally been wonderful, very genuine and really interesting. And I think there is huge potential. There is a longstanding, historical relationship with the U.K., but I think there's huge potential to do more in the future. And if I in my job as consul general can play a small role in cementing that and strengthening that, that makes me happy.