St. Louis set to be major air trade hub
Updated: 2011-07-16 14:09
By Ariel Tung (China Daily)
NEW YORK - The first China-St. Louis cargo air route poised to be a key trade hub in the US' Midwest will take flight in September, sources involved in the project have recently told China Daily.
The flights will bring agricultural goods and other products from the Midwest to China and create about 12,000 to 15,000 jobs in St. Louis, according to Midwest-China Hub Commission Chairman Mike Jones. "Flights will begin in September. When people see that happening, they will understand that Missouri will be transformed into an international trade hub. It will get a lot of attention not just in the state but in the world," said Daniel Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
"We want to create a regular air freight route flying from St. Louis to Shanghai, with China Cargo Airline of China Eastern (CATA) having been designated as the airline for the Lambert St. Louis airport," Jones said.
"Metaphorically, we want to reposition St. Louis as a 'Gateway to the East' in the 21st century."
The commission was formed in January 2009 with the aim of creating freight opportunities between St. Louis and China. Now, it's "very close to inking the deal," said Jones.
The commission is a collaboration among St. Louis and Missouri government officials, business associates and China.
Jones said he is hopeful that the "final piece of legislation" will be passed by the Missouri state senators and state representatives in September.
According to Mehan, all signs are "very positive" and that there is a "sense of urgency to do this."
When legislation is passed, Jones said Midwest-China Hub will begin with three cargo flights between Pudong, Shanghai and St. Louis. Eventually, more flights will be added depending on the market.
As of now, CATA will be the only airline to work with Lambert Airport, although plans are in the pipeline to include "a Latin American carrier who is very interested to work with Lambert Airport to be a major China freight carrier."
With Missouri's central location in the country, it is well suited to be a logistics and distribution center for exporting Missouri products.
"(China Hub) will serve as an opening of a door for our trade with China. It will create job opportunities in the US and open up the market in China," Mehan said. Midweat-China Hub will help strengthen the business relationship the US has with China, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay told China Daily.
"We have an agreement to increase US exports to China. We are hoping to take advantage of that agreement," Slay said.
"Having a trade hub in St. Louis will help enable the Chinese to buy products from different parts of the Midwest such as beef, pork and agricultural products. It is also a way to reduce the trade deficit we have with China," he added.
During President Hu Jintao's visit to the US in January, US President Barack Obama said the US wants to have a stronger business relationship with China. Overall, the US and China inked $45 billion of export deals on the margins of Hu's visit.
Slay said having a trade hub will raise St. Louis' image and help attract more Chinese investment there.
"It is more than just a trade hub. It will help draw people from all over the world, particularly from China. We hope to make St. Louis a global city," he said.
In September 2010, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge and CATA Chairman Luo Chaogeng signed a Memorandum of Understanding to explore the potential for a China air route to St. Louis.
In January, China Cargo Airline of China Eastern began its negotiations with Lambert Airport for the Chinese-St. Louis cargo air route.
Recent figures show that Lambert Airport is heavily in debt and is underutilized in terms of air freight. Currently about 2 percent of the traffic at Lambert Airport is air cargo but when it becomes a major China trade hub, Lambert will be able to use its excess freight capacity.
"If we are successful in creating a significant freight in and out of Lambert Airport, it will help the airport greatly," Mehan said.
"Obviously we would like to increase our air cargo traffic. If China Hub takes place, it will help in terms of increasing landed weight and developing currently underutilized 1,200 acres of land owned by the airport," Niebruegge said in a statement.
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