Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said he will travel to China to meet with existing and prospective business contacts and with government officials about opening the country to Arkansas rice and poultry.
Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and Mark Hamer, AEDC director of business development for Asia, will accompany the governor on the six-day tour, which will include stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Yanzhou District, Jinan, Jining and Suzhou.
The group leaves Saturday and will return Oct. 21.
Hutchinson said China has barriers to rice and poultry from the U.S. and that he wants to meet directly with government officials about changing that. The country still an avian flu ban on poultry, and an agreement to allow U.S. rice into China has yet to be approved by its government.
Hutchinson's group plans to meet with China's vice minister of agriculture and its secretary general of foreign affairs.
"Not only will be calling on prospective businesses that we hope to recruit to Arkansas over time, but we'll also be meeting with Arkansas businesses there, and also taking the case for Arkansas to the Chinese government," he said.
Hutchinson said the group will meet with Shandong Sun Paper Industry JSC Ltd., which earlier this year announced plans to build a $1.3 billion paper mill that will employ 250 people in Clark County. They will also meet with Arkansas companies that do business in China, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and Cobb-Vantress Inc. of Siloam Springs.
Preston said maintaining relationships with companies is important for recruitment and other economic development efforts.
"When you're doing economic development, relationships matter, and this governor has proven that — that building these relationships are imperative to us doing business here in the United States but obviously also overseas," Preston said. "What we learned last time with China is that we have to have a presence there — we continue to have our office in Shanghai — and it's important for myself and the governor to make sure that Arkansas is known over there."
Preston said the state aims to continue momentum generated by the Sun Paper agreement. He said AEDC has seen an uptick in calls from Chinese companies interested in the state, which is giving Arkansas more reason to go and share its story there.
Preston said the Chinese are looking for new places to invest.
"They're looking for markets outside of China to invest in, and they look at the United States as the most stable market in the world in which to invest," he said. "So that tells us that Arkansas has an opportunity to be one of the first states there that can build those relationships to look for investments. So I think that's where you see a company like Sun Paper looking to invest in new markets and looking to the United States."
The trip will cost $45,000, according to the governor's office. It will be the governor's fifth international trade mission since taking office and his second to China. In July, Hutchinson and Preston led a contingent to Europe to explore opportunities in the aerospace and defense industries and open an AEDC office in Berlin.
In November, the governor traveled to China and Japan. In 2015, he was the first governor to visit Cuba since the country re-established formal diplomatic relations with the United States. The Cuba missions also focused on promoting the state's rice and poultry industries.