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A bipartisan group of Missouri House members has formed a Friends of the United Kingdom Caucus to foster more connections between the state and country.

State Rep. Derek Grier, R-Chesterfield, said in a news release announcing the formation of the caucus: "In a time when the United Kingdom is engaged in negotiations with the U.S. on a free trade agreement, it is important that Missouri has a voice and an influence on the future of this important relationship."

Grier is chairman of the House Economic Development Committee and the inaugural chairman of the U.K. Caucus.

The U.K., having exited the European Union in January, entered into trade talks with the United States this summer.

Trade between the U.S. and U.K. is already worth approximately $269 billion a year, with airplanes and precious metals being the top exports to the U.K. and vehicles and machinery being the top imports to the U.S.

"Missouri's economic relationship with the U.K. already exceeds $2 billion annually, and our goal is to increase that going forward," Grier said.

The caucus intends to support Missouri interests in a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement, discuss trade and investment opportunities, and discuss "issues relevant to a continued, growing and positive relationship between Missouri and the U.K. as both regions work on economic recovery and growth efforts in a global marketplace," according to the news release announcing the caucus' formation.

The news release noted more than 25 Missouri companies have a presence in the U.K., "including Enterprise, Hallmark, Cerner, Stifel, Lockton and Emerson."

The news release also noted there are more than 50 British companies with a presence in Missouri, "including AB Mauri, AON, Bunzl, Caparo Group, GKN Aerospace, GSK, Unilever and WPP."

Unilever — which in the U.S. has food, drink and personal care brands — has a factory in Jefferson City.

According to research published in June by the UK's Department for International Trade and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 26,100 Missourians were employed by U.K. subsidiaries in 2017, including 7,780 jobs supported by exports from Missouri to the U.K.

The U.K. was Missouri's fifth-largest export market in 2017, according to the research. Services — travel, finances, credit, data, insurance — were together more than 2.5 times more valuable than goods, but the top goods category of aerospace products and parts was still worth $54 million.

The other top goods categories for exports from Missouri to the U.K. were print products, pharmaceuticals and medicines, computer equipment and industrial machinery.

State Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said: "Missouri and the United Kingdom have powerful innovative ecosystems and deep cultural ties. Together, we can build a strong, global, forward-looking partnership that will impact the world."

Razer is the inaugural vice chairman of the U.K. Caucus.

The Honorable Mark Sutherland, British consul to Missouri, said: "Missouri is the birthplace of the special relationship thanks to Sir Winston Churchill's 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri. And this relationship is dynamic and growing, especially in the agriculture and agtech sectors. There are numerous active collaborations and partnerships taking place today between Missouri and the U.K., and to have the support of Missouri's elected leadership is smashing."

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The Churchill speech Sutherland referred to was when the former prime minister visited Westminster College and dubbed the Soviet Union as an "iron curtain" descending upon Europe.

Alan Gogbashian, British consul general to the Midwest, said: "We warmly welcome the establishment of the Missouri House of Representatives Friends of the United Kingdom Caucus. The U.K. and Missouri have long enjoyed a close relationship, and we look forward to working with Caucus members as we continue to strengthen our economic and political ties."

The British consulate in Chicago serves interests and British nationals in the Midwest, including Missouri.

Other founding members of Missouri's Friends of the United Kingdom Caucus are state Reps. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka; Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters; Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville; Hannah Kelley, R-Mountain Grove; Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis; John Wiemann, R-O'Fallon; Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis; Wiley Price, D-St. Louis; Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs; Cody Smith, R-Carthage; Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles; and Curtis Trent, R-Springfield.

The Associated Press contributed information to this report.

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