Business leaders warned Missouri governor about trade trip

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon postponed a planned trade mission to Taiwan and South Korea after business leaders warned the trip could endanger a proposal to make Lambert-St. Louis International Airport a trade hub.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that members of the Midwest China Hub Commission were concerned that Chinese officials could be angered if Nixon were to travel to Taiwan. Missouri has been working for several years to expand trade between the Midwest and China, and hopes to make Lambert Airport a major entry point for Chinese goods.

Mike Jones, the chairman of the China hub commission, said he discussed the trip with the governor’s office for a couple of weeks. Jones said committee members knew Chinese officials would be unhappy.

“It’s fair to say we didn’t think the trip would be helpful,” Jones said.

Nixon was scheduled to leave for Taiwan on Friday and was to travel to South Korea on Dec. 14. The focus of the trip was to be the signing of a letter of intent for Taiwanese businesses and industry groups to buy about $120 million of Missouri products each year over the next five years. Two state department directors, business leaders and several trade and agriculture commodity group officials were to travel with Nixon.

The governor’s office said last week that the trade mission was postponed because of “travel challenges” and has declined to elaborate.

The Midwest China Hub Commission said in a letter to Nixon that the Chinese counsel general had contacted the committee to “express his strong concern that your proposed visit to Taiwan would be misunderstood in Beijing and would probably affect our chances of success.”

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved in recent years, but the U.S. frequently has found itself caught between them. China considers Taiwan to be part of its country.

St. Louis officials say negotiations over the proposed Missouri trade hub with China are in their final stages and could bring begin bringing cargo flights to Lambert Airport this spring. Executives from three Chinese airlines have said they are studying bringing regular cargo service and could reach a deal with the airport. Business officials also hope the agreement could entice more Chinese investment into the St. Louis region in manufacturing, biotech, real estate and other industries.

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Information from: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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