Local trade delegation heads to China

8-22-12 St. Louis Post Dispatch
by Tim Logan

Local business leaders and the World Trade Center St. Louis are planning a trade delegation to China, the latest in a long string of efforts to deepen the region’s ties with the world’s fastest-growing large economy.

The trip, to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou, will take place the first week of December and include meetings with civic and business leaders. While organizers are still recruiting companies to participate, they expect to bring representatives from large and smaller companies, universities and government agencies, similar to a January trip to Indonesia.

Like that trip, this one will be led by former Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who worked a lot on Asian relations while in the Senate and now heads a consulting form that works on international trade. Visiting China — and visiting again — helps forge the relationships that lead to deals and jobs, he said.

“Every time you go someplace in Asia they want to know, ‘Is this your first trip?’” said Bond, who made his first trip to China in 1979. “The businesses we’re taking over now can see how important it is to build those relationships.

China is a big market for St. Louis companies. It is the third-biggest destination for exports from Missouri, having passed South Korea in 2008, and many large local companies have sizable operations there. The trick in exporting is often to help smaller companies find their way into new markets, too, said Tim Nowak, president of the World Trade Center.

“This sort of thing really is invaluable in terms of finding an entry point,” said Nowak, who noted that the World Trade Center has some funding to help companies that are new to exporting defray the cost of the trip.

It’s part of a long-term strategy, said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. The region has been working on deepening ties with China for several years now, through the efforts to bring a Chinese cargo hub to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, and countless investment trips in both directions. Every one is a step in the right direction.

“This is going to keep us in the mix,” Dooley said. “And as long as you’re in the mix, you’ve got an opportunity.”

Business Photo