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SALT LAKE CITY -- People who promote trade relationships between Utah and China are licking their chops at some new possibilities now that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has been nominated to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China. They think Huntsman will be well-positioned and well-suited to help.
As ambassador, Huntsman's job will be to represent the United States, not the state of Utah. Still, some think his personal qualities and his influential position will give Utah a leg up as the world's largest market emerges.
Many Americans are acutely aware that much of what we buy comes from China, but China also buys a lot from us. Utah, alone, sold $600 million in products to China last year.
"We're sending that to them. They're buying it from us, and that means Utah jobs. So, that's why we're so excited about that opportunity," said Lew Cramer, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.
The opportunity is Jon Huntsman. A Utahn is about to become the most visible and influential American in China.
"In today's economy, with where the dollar is, and particularly having an advocate like the governor as our ambassador there, I think we could double that opportunity abroad," Cramer said.
Meanwhile, trade officials believe Huntsman's diplomatic skills, his knowledge of Utah markets and his fluency in Mandarin Chinese could help boost Utah-China trade.
"We're excited about it. It's a great market for us. It's an emerging market and very important. Governor Huntsman knows tourism. It was a very important part of his economic development program, so he'll understand what we're trying to do there," said Leigh von der Esch, director of the Utah Office of Tourism.
Chinese visitors are a tiny portion of Utah tourism now, but the Chinese recently agreed to loosen some travel restrictions.
"The reality is there are regulations, there are contacts, there are connections that take place that only human contact can facilitate, and our governor, as the consummate diplomat, will be in a position to insure that those connections take place appropriately," Cramer said.
It's estimated that 50 million Chinese will become tourists. If Utah's scenery draws just a small percentage, it's still a big number. There's also a possibility Huntsman will put that idea in many heads because of his very important and highly-visible job in Beijing.