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St. Louis Officials Sign Trade Deal with Chinese Delegation (1-23-11

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Efforts to position the St. Louis region to succeed in the 21st century took a step forward Saturday when the region signed an agreement with the Shanghai China Commerce Commission that in the long run could put the area on the map internationally. The "Memorandum of Understanding of Mutual Cooperation" is a step toward more formal trade relations between the two cities. It comes at the end of an important state visit by China's President Hu Jintao to the United States.

Economic issues were on the table in Washington, but both nations agree the world's two largest economies need to do business with each other.

A nine member trade delegation from Shanghai made the visit to St. Louis. The business and political leaders toured Express Scripts company Saturday and will see Saavis and Emerson operations on Sunday. The Chinese have a growing economy with demands for consumer goods and they have money to invest in the United States. St. Louis business leaders hope to capitalize on that.

"Half of the American economy as well as half of the population of the United States is in the Midwest between the Alleghenies and the Rockies; St. Louis is the epicenter of that market," Mike Jones, Midwest China Hub Commission chairman, said speaking after the signing ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Riverfront. Jones expects China will want to do business with such a sizable part of the U.S. But he does not expect an immediate impact. The real payoff he said would be 15 to 20 years from now.

St. Louis Mayor Slay called the agreement "a big deal." "We haven't historically had the opportunities that the coasts and the edges of the United States have in doing business internationally," Slay pointed out. "This is to help develop better, stronger relationships. To create exchanges to promote business investment, trade and also other investments in our community back and forth," Slay said.

Jones and Slay see the move as a way to position St. Louis on the international business stage. "This is a global economy and if we want to compete globally we really need to get on with it and create relationships with countries like China which is a growing economy and huge player internationally," Slay added. Jones is hopeful the agreement will lead to the Shanghai economic development group opening a St. Louis office. "There will be a two way conduit for Chinese companies interested in investing in this area and for St. Louis companies figuring out how to do business in China," Jones said.

Jones credited China's Consul General who is based in Chicago, Yang Guoqiang as a major force in helping St. Louis develop this new relationship with Shanghai leaders. Speaking at the ceremony Yang said, "We do have the same dream, dream of a better world, better life so we both have a lot of common interests to share."

Yang also announced that China Air Cargo Corporation will begin negotiations with St. Louis Lambert Airport February 20 to arrange for regular cargo flights from Shanghai to St. Louis. Perishable food products, high value technical and manufactured goods as well as medicine are the kind of American products that could be exported to China through the freight hub in St. Louis.

St. Louis leaders have been cultivating connections to Chinese business leaders for two years. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has traveled to China three times as part of St. Louis delegations. The effort has had bi-partisan support from Missouri's Congressional delegation.



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