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New Midwest/China Hub Commission to Coordinate St. Louis Region's Trade Outreach to China; Interest in Link Remains Strong, Chinese Ambassador Says.

ST. LOUIS -- China's Ambassador to the United States joined local and state leaders today in announcing the formation of a new partnership here to spearhead and coordinate efforts to make St. Louis a hub for China's Midwest trade.

At the same time, officials announced that a working group from St. Louis will head back to Beijing this spring for a second visit to explore closer economic ties.

The Chinese ambassador, Zhou Wenzhong, joined Sen. Kit Bond, Sen. Claire McCaskill, state and local governmental and business leaders and members of the newly formed Commission in announcing both the new trip to Beijing and the Midwest/China Hub Commission, a public/private entity that will operate both here and in Beijing. In a sign of their significance, the announcements came on the first day of the Chinese New Year.

"We are very pleased with the formation of this new Commission," Ambassador Zhou said. "It is another indication of the strong interest of the St. Louis region in advancing trade links with our country. That interest remains keen on our part as well."

"With the world economy in a slump," Sen. Bond said, "now is the time to be expanding markets for Midwest products and opening up new opportunities for Missouri workers. The Midwest Air Cargo and Air Freight Hub at Lambert will do just that."

"This new Commission means that we here in the St. Louis area and in Missouri will be united as we seek to make the most of the opportunity we believe we have," Sen. McCaskill said. "The Commission will make it easy for China to deal with us, and it will make it easier for us to deal with them. It will accelerate our work toward our ultimate goal -- creating more jobs for people in the St. Louis area and across our state. "

"We are extremely honored that Ambassador Zhou would come to St. Louis for this announcement on the first day of the Chinese New Year," said Daniel Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "His presence here on this day speaks volumes about the importance that the Chinese attach to this effort."

Local and state leaders have been working with the Chinese for about a year about the opportunity for establishing the St. Louis region as a multi-state commercial hub for China. During a trip by local and state leaders to Beijing last spring, local and state leaders and Chinese governmental officials signed two memoranda of understanding.

The first, with China's Investment Promotion Agency and Trade Development Bureau, called for efforts to expand trade, promote Chinese investment, and provide a location for U.S. operations for Chinese companies in this part of the United States. The second, with China's Civil Aviation Administration, called for a joint assessment of the feasibility of establishing an air freight and passenger hub at Lambert International Airport.

The Commission expects to share results from the latter assessment to the Chinese soon. Initial indications from preliminary studies are encouraging, said Richard C.D. Fleming, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA).

"We are convinced that making St. Louis a cargo hub to China would present significant advantages -- primarily lower costs and fewer delays -- to many shippers who are now using Chicago's O'Hare and other airports," Fleming said. "The St. Louis region in fact has unique aviation capacity to serve China through both Lambert International and MidAmerica Airport."

The Commission was formed by three governmental entities -- the State of Missouri, St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis - and several private or private-civic ones -- the RCGA, the region's chamber of commerce and economic development organization; the World Trade Center of St. Louis; the Missouri Partnership, a non-profit that support state economic development; the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and the St. Louis County Economic Council. Additional members may be added later.

Each member of the Commission has pledged to contribute staff expertise and funding. Additional dollars will be sought in the form of federal and state grants.

Michael Jones, chief policy advisor for St. Louis County, is chairman of the Commission. Plans are for Fleming and Mehan to serve as vice chairs.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Jan 26, 2009
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