Interview: Official says collaboration with China remains significant for U.S. state of Kentucky

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FRANKFORT, The United States, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. state of Kentucky looks forward to closer collaboration with China in trade and other areas, and is leading the trend on the sub-national level, a Kentucky trade official said in a recent interview.

"China is probably the country or the partner that we have the most forward momentum with right now," Craig McKinney, director of international affairs at Kentucky's Cabinet for Economic Development, told Xinhua at his office in Frankfort, the state capital.

China is currently the biggest source of imports for Kentucky and one of its top export markets. In 2017, a record-setting 2.81 billion U.S. dollars' worth of made-in-Kentucky goods, mainly aerospace, automotive and pharmaceutical products, were shipped to China, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, Chinese investments in Kentucky mushroomed during the past decade. The number of Chinese-owned companies grew from one in 2008 to nine, supporting about 8,700 jobs, said McKinney.

A major reason behind this investment boom, McKinney said, is that a pro-business environment has been nurtured in Kentucky, supported by favorable policies such as low utility rates.

Meanwhile, the state has been a logistics hub in the southeastern region of the United States and one of the leaders in the national workforce development and training education, he added.

McKinney worked in Shanghai for several years for a U.S. company. In November, he visited China again, with a mission of state business development.

"I saw things that I had not seen in the past," he said of the week-long trip that brought the mission to various Chinese cities, where he attended international conventions and made new potential business contacts.

With Kentucky being a dominant state in the automotive sector, "one of the avenues that we're pursuing heavily right now is looking for EV companies and companies associated with EV (in China) to bring them into our automotive ecosystem," he said.

He highlighted his trip to Shanghai, where the second China International Import Expo (CIIE) was held on Nov. 5-10. Two Kentucky companies, namely Birtley Industrial Equipment and GE Appliances, joined other 180-plus U.S. companies in showcasing their products to the robust Chinese market.

"It was everything I imagined ... The electricity and the buzz of being there. You could feel it," McKinney said. "With it being the second annual one, there is still a newness and a freshness to it and excitement about it."

The Bluegrass state has been a proactive participator of the CIIE. In 2018, a team led by state Governor Matt Bevin attended the inaugural Expo.

As McKinney said, the first CIIE created "positive momentum for the state and China" and the "results speak for itself." Soon after its conclusion, China's Phoenix Paper reopened a former paper mill in West Kentucky's Ballard County with a 150-million-dollar investment, and another 200-million-dollar phase II investment is on its way, the company announced in August.

The ongoing trade tensions between China and the United States have slashed 20 percent of Kentucky's exports to China in the past year, said McKinney. But he believes this is just "part of a cycle" and the state will continue to work closely with China, despite the fact that Washington has been blowing hot and cold on reaching a deal.

China remains one of Kentucky's most strategic and important trading partners, and "even throughout the negative news of the tariff situation, we've been really positively focused on operating at the sub-national level and it's been really successful for us," he said.

There are also ever-growing connections beyond trade. In May, the fifth China-U.S. Governors Forum was held in Lexington in central Kentucky, with officials from both countries expressing optimism over the future of local-level cooperation.

During this year's Spring Festival, the state hosted a celebration with some 150 Chinese students from 12 universities statewide having dinner with Governor Bevin. Sister-city relationships have also been established, such as the one between Louisville and Chengdu, in southern China's Sichuan Province.

"So there's a lot of forward momentum. I think a lot of the negative attention with the tariff situation, we're really not feeling that here very much in Kentucky," said McKinney.

While GDP and job creations are important, the trade official believes that collaboration between the two sides serves a greater purpose.

"Kentucky's outlook and my personal outlook on our relationship with China is extremely positive," he added. Enditem

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