Gov. Nixon: Billions worth of deals on tap with China

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon plans to leave Friday for a trade trip to China that he says will seal the deal on billions of dollars of exports over the next three years.

But the trip won’t be quite as grand as some Missouri officials and business leaders had originally hoped. That’s because it is coinciding with the gradual demise of a special legislative session in which Missouri lawmakers have failed to pass a bill authorizing millions of dollars of tax credits that had been intended to transform the St. Louis airport into a hub for Chinese cargo planes.

Nixon said Tuesday that the trade mission to China still can be a success.

“There is a lot more to the relationship as far as trade and products than just the airport in St. Louis,” Nixon said at a Kansas City news conference promoting his China trip. “We have folks from all across the Show Me State that are selling products internationally, and especially to China, and we think that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t continue to maintain these agreements and to see further concrete steps forward in our trade relationship.”

China already is Missouri’s third-largest trading partner, buying $987 million of Missouri goods in 2010, Nixon said. Through August, Missouri exports to China totaled about $773 million, which Nixon said was a 25 percent increase over the same period the previous year. He said the trade agreements to be signed during his trip should significantly increase Missouri’s exports to China from 2012 to 2014.

Many Missouri business leaders and elected officials had argued that exports could increase even more if the state would offer incentives for companies to ship goods through Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and for businesses to build the warehouses and other facilities needed to handle an influx of cargo.

This summer, Missouri House and Senate leaders said they had agreed on an economic development package that included $360 million of tax credits for what some dubbed as the China Hub or Aerotropolis at the St. Louis airport. Nixon placed the proposal on the agenda for a special session that started Sept. 6. But it quickly ran into trouble in the Senate, where it was pared back to $60 million of tax credits targeted only for firms that handle the logistics for exports at the St. Louis airport.

That slimmed down plan also has failed to pass because of a stalemate between the House and Senate about whether to place expiration dates on a pair of existing tax credits for the construction of low-income housing and the renovation of historic buildings. The Senate decided Monday not to seek further negotiations with the House and has not scheduled any additional votes before the special session automatically ends Nov. 5.

House Speaker Steven Tilley said Tuesday that he, too, saw no further hope of passing the air cargo incentives during the special session.

“We probably need to go ahead and adjourn,” said Tilley, R-Perryville.

Nixon said the proposed export incentives targeting the St. Louis airport “would have added another asset on the table for us” as he heads to China. “But that one bill at one time will not limit our continued growth” in Chinese exports, Nixon added.

Nixon’s schedule calls for him to leave Friday from Missouri and arrive Saturday in Beijing. He also is to travel to Shijiazhuang and Shanghai before returning to Missouri on Oct. 29. Nixon is to be accompanied by his wife, the directors of the state agriculture and economic development departments, the president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and representatives of various agricultural industry groups, the University of Missouri and the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association. The delegation also includes representatives of various businesses, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Peabody Energy Corp. and Orscheln Products.

Nixon’s travel costs will be covered by the Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit group that often finances gubernatorial trips related to economic development.

The Missouri Republican Party on Tuesday cast a cloud over Nixon’s trip by noting that Nixon had criticized Chinese imports during his 2008 gubernatorial campaign. Nixon had run a TV ad accusing his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, of backing economic policies that resulted in the loss of 45,000 Missouri jobs due to Chinese trade since 2001.

Asked Tuesday about his campaign comments, Nixon said he didn’t want to respond to something from three years ago and instead stressed that he has always supported the exportation of Missouri products.

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