Summit aimed to boost Utah’s defense and aerospace trade with Indo-Pacific nations

(Chinatopix via AP) Containers piled high at a port in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province, as seen on Nov. 8, 2018. The U.S. Department of Commerce is hosting a two-day trade conference in Salt Lake City, aimed at promoting Utah exports to the Indo-Pacific region.

The U.S. government’s desire to promote American industry on the global stage was on display Tuesday as diplomats mingled with Utah business representatives hoping to expand their sales to Asian markets.

Held in Salt Lake City, the Discover Global Markets convention, backed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, targeted Utah’s aerospace, defense and security sectors, offering area businesses a range of free assistance, advice and planning on how to reach potential buyers and trading partners as part of what President Donald Trump has dubbed his new “Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Nearly 370 attendees attended the two-day gathering sponsored by the Commerce Department’s export-promotion arm, known as the U.S. Commercial Service. Officials said their aim is boosting U.S.-Asian trade that generates jobs and economic growth domestically while also helping to stabilize international relations with the nearly 40 countries in the region.

America cannot achieve those goals with military might alone, a top U.S. general said.

“Economic security is national security. These two are inherently linked,” Maj. Gen. Suzanne Vares-Lum, mobilization assistant to Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told a large audience at the Salt Lake Hilton.

“Where there is economic strength, we see prosperity achieved for everyone,” Vares-Lum said. “And where there is an economic vacuum, we see some exploiting those opportunities on the backs of the most vulnerable in the region.”

Having canceled negotiations for a regional Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, the Trump administration is now pushing for stronger bilateral trade relations with individual nations in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes southeast Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh in addition to Pacific Rim nations like China and Japan.

To that end, an array of U.S. trade-promoting programs are aligned “to help the private sector make valuable connections, continue engaging in those relationships, taking them to the next level and ultimately closing deals,” said Ian Steff, acting assistant secretary for global markets and director general of the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service.

“This is a deal-oriented administration,” Steff said, “and that’s how we define success at the end of the day.”

Officials noted that many Indo-Pacific nations are enjoying economic expansion, growth of their middle classes and rising military spending — opening the potential for new export markets for Utah’s aerospace and defense industries.

The region accounts for nearly a third of the world’s total gross domestic product and two-thirds of global growth, according to Commerce Department statistics.

And, going by U.S. Census data, nearly 11 of Utah’s top 25 export destinations in 2017 were Indo-Pacific nations, for a total of $4.8 billion in trade. Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore topped that list.