Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will lead trade delegation to Japan this week — but he’s skipping Hong Kong

(Kin Cheung | AP file photo) Shipping containers are seen at a port of Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong, May 24, 2019. Kwai Tsing Container Terminals is one of the busiest ports in the world.

Gov. Gary Herbert will lead a trade mission to Japan this week, accompanied by representatives from 22 of Utah’s leading companies and organizations.

The governor-led delegation will meet with investors, business leaders, trade associations and government officials to “forge relationships and explore opportunities for Utah to expand its economic footprint in Asia,” according to a news release. The mission, organized by World Trade Center Utah and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, is also meant to attract more Japanese investment to Utah.

“The importance of international trade for Utah’s economy must not be underestimated,” Herbert said in a prepared statement. “Trade is particularly critical when we consider our relationship with Japan, Hong Kong and other Asian regions. As we strengthen our trade ties with our international partners, we are indeed strengthening our own state.”

Before meeting up with the governor in Japan, Justin Harding, Herbert’s chief of staff, and Val Hale, GOED director, are accompanying business leaders on the trip in an initial series of meetings in Hong Kong, where protests over a proposed bill making it easier to extradite citizens to mainland China have flared into sometimes-violent clashes between police and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.

Anna Lehnardt, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said that Hong Kong is not an easy place to travel in and out of due to the current protests and political climate. The governor made the decision to avoid Hong Kong and keep on track for delegation meetings in Japan.

“Just, in the current political climate and with all those tensions escalating ... we figured that his time would be best spent in Japan," Lehnardt said. “We understand that Hong Kong is open for business, and it’s still very helpful for the trade mission to proceed as planned.”

The delegation’s first scheduled stop Monday in Hong Kong was to Modern Ports, the first one-stop e-business platform serving the Hong Kong shipping community, and one of the largest ports in Asia. Planned discussions included port business models and the critical role of ports in global trade and the economic pressures that drive the necessity of inland ports, including the Utah Inland Port.

The delegation also was to meet with Orient Overseas Container Line, a container shipping and logistics service company that has its North American headquarters in Utah.

In Japan, the delegation is meeting with companies like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/Aerospace (MHI Aerospace) to discuss Utah’s aerospace industry and opportunities for Utah aerospace companies to build commercial ties with Mitsubishi. Laura Nelson of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, will meet with additional Mitsubishi branches.

The governor’s trade mission coincides with MHI’s increasing investments in the United States, and it also follows the May announcement of Mitsubishi’s partnership with Utah-based Magnum Development to launch an advanced clean energy storage project in central Utah.

Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah, believes that there are abundant parallels between Utah and Japan’s thriving industries.

“Aerospace, life sciences and energy are top priorities for both markets, and each excels at innovation in these areas,” he said in a news release.

In 2017, U.S. investments in Japan — which has the world’s third largest gross domestic product — were at approximately $129 billion, while Utah’s exports to Japan experienced a five-year, 47% increase to $811 million as of the same year. And, Japan’s market for imported aircraft, aircraft parts and engines is lucrative, resulting in U.S. firms having a strong presence in Japan and long-standing relationships with domestic manufacturers and trading firms.

“Trade missions are a valuable economic development tool,” said Hale, the GOED director. “They provide a unique opportunity for Utah business leaders to meet and build relationships with leaders from around the globe. I’ve seen successful outcomes following each trade mission.”

Among the companies making the trip are Applied Composite Technology Aerospace, Inc.; DPS Skis; Nu Skin Enterprises; the Utah Farm Bureau Federation; and Zions Bank.