Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
FILE - Miles Hansen, World Trade Center Utah president and CEO, speaks about the relationship between immigration and the economy during a press conference at the Salt Lake Chamber in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — With the United States in the midst of ongoing negotiations with China for a long-term trade agreement, Utah will work to continue its relationship with its largest international trading partner at a meeting this week in the Beehive State.

On Saturday, Utah business and civic leaders will host a delegation from the China Chamber of International Commerce, the Chinese Embassy in the U.S., Spike 150, the Utah Chinese Golden Spike Celebration Committee and Economic Bridge International to present the Utah-China Trade and Investment Forum.

The event will be a major recognition of the relationship between the state and China, explained Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah. It is also an opportunity to make progress on expanding trade and investment between the two entities, he said.

"It's important — particularly given on the geopolitical tensions at the moment — to convene people on both sides and ask ourselves the question, 'How do we strengthen and broaden this relationship?'"

Hansen said Utah businesses are looking for opportunities to expand into new markets and increase trade within already existing markets, particularly in key industries such as energy, life sciences, sports and the outdoor industry.

In 2018, Utah exported nearly $14.4 billion in goods to markets across the globe, which represented a 17.5 percent increase in the last five years, according to World Trade Center Utah. Comparatively, the state imported $15.1 billion in goods from global markets — a 36 percent increase over the same period.

"From a Utah perspective, we have a very strong interest in seeing a positive result in the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China," he said. Utah exported nearly $577 million in goods to China in 2018 — a decrease of 35 percent from 2014 and down 22 percent last year alone, he said.

Noting the significant declines last year, a resolution to the trade discord would serve the state and the nation well in the long term, he said.

"We saw a corresponding decrease in exports from Utah to China, so that is a very clear indicator that the ongoing trade dispute has been very challenging for Utah companies," he said. "There is a strong hope among the business community here in Utah that (the Trump) administration can reach an agreement with China that helps address some of the legitimate concerns that we have from the U.S. perspective about trade in China while at the same time ratchets down the tensions."

He said getting stakeholders "on the same page going forward" so that normalized trade relations can resume is key to the economic futures of all parties involved. Additionally, finding a path that will establish relations that are mutually beneficial to all sides is also critical for local companies and Chinese firms, he said.

Hansen noted that there is heightened concern among Utah companies about the potential for U.S.-imposed tariffs on Chinese goods and products due to the negative impact such tactics have had on international trade over the past year.

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"Additional tariffs and escalations in this trade dispute would have even worse consequences for Utah businesses," he said. "There is a very strong hope from the business community that the administration will come to an agreement with China that does address some of these concerns that create free and fair trade."

He said that despite the discord between the two national governments, states like Utah are still involved in commerce with China and that benefits the state's economy.

"We need to continue to support Utah companies to find ways to expand their trade investment with China," Hansen said.

The Utah-China Trade and Investment Forum runs from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.