5 to talk up state on visit to China

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and four other state officials are traveling Saturday to China in hopes of luring another Asian company to locate in the Natural State.

The trip comes after Sun Paper, a Chinese company, announced in April that it would build a $1 billion pulp mill in Clark County near Arkadelphia.

“We are hopeful to capture the momentum that we’ve had from Sun Paper,” said Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. He was referring to the company that plans to build a pulp mill and employ up to 250 people in an industrial park near Gum Springs, a few miles south of Arkadelphia.

“I can tell you personally that we’ve had an uptick in calls from companies who are based in China with an interest in Arkansas, so it gives us more reason to go back and share and tell the Arkansas story,” Preston said

“Aside from the 14-hour flight and about 24 hours of traveling in one day, we are very excited about this trip and the prospects that it brings,” he said at a news conference in the governor’s conference room at the state Capitol.

Hutchinson said state officials will meet with Chinese government officials in promoting Arkansas’ agricultural products, including rice and poultry.

“Without a question, it is a good opportunity for Arkansas to present its case in terms of our rice and poultry and opening up the China markets, which we have some current obstacles in doing,” Hutchinson said.

The Chinese government still has an bird flu ban on Arkansas poultry. “Everybody has lifted it but China, and we view that as an excuse more than a reason, so that’s a barrier for us,” the governor said.

There is an agreement that hasn’t been approved by the Chinese government that would open the door for Arkansas rice into China, “so that’s one barrier that we need to move along,” Hutchinson said.

In addition, there is a U.S. complaint with the World Trade Organization that “raises the issue that China has unreasonable barriers for our agricultural commodities going in,” the governor said.

Hutchinson said Arkansas officials will be in five cities in China during six days, and there won’t be “a whole lot of down time there.

“We’ll be calling on multiple prospects in China as well as continuing our relationship with Sun Paper in Shandong province,” he said. “While we have their project in Arkadelphia that is being developed, we want to continue to build that relationship. They are a good ally for Arkansas within that province and we want to continue building on that relationship.”

This is the governor’s second trip to China.

In November, Hutchinson and Preston traveled to the Sun Paper headquarters in China and signed a letter of intent with the firm. At the time, Sun Paper agreed to choose a site for the mill before May 1 of this year.

“My view of these trips is this is an ongoing relationship while I’m governor,” Hutchinson said Thursday.

“Success comes from consistency in action, consistency in having a presence in China, consistency in calling on these businesses and making the case for Arkansas,” he said.

Since being sworn into office in January 2015, the Republican governor also has traveled to Cuba, England, France, Germany and Japan on economic development trips.

Besides Hutchinson and Preston, Hutchinson Chief of Staff Alison Williams, Economic Development Commission Director of Business Development for Asia Mark Hamer, and a state trooper traveling with the governor will be on the trip to China, according to information provided by commission spokesman Scott Hardin.

The total state budget for the trip from Saturday through Friday will be $45,024. That includes $27,715 for interpreters, guides, travel and hotel for the interpreters, and the Arkansas delegation’s in-country travel, including numerous train fares; a car and driver; renting a meeting room; and $17,309 for hotels, flights and meals for the Arkansas delegation.

The Economic Development Commission has overseas offices in China and Japan as well as in Germany, which is considered its office for Europe, said Hardin.

Business on 10/14/2016

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