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Utah's exports to China are on pace to more than double the level in 2010, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday, and he is confident the partnership between the two will grow in the years ahead.

"As governor, my two most important duties are creating jobs for Utahns and preparing the state's economy for success in a global future, and it's easy to see the future of business is in the international arena," Herbert said, kicking off the U.S. & China Trade, Culture & Education Conference.

In 2010, Utah shipped nearly $2 billion in exports to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Through May of this year, the figure had already reached $1.96 billion, putting the state on track to double its exports to the region.

The four-day conference, held in tandem with the National Governors Association Summer Conference in Salt Lake City this weekend, is designed to bring together government and business leaders from the two countries to increase business opportunities.

Herbert hosted a state lunch for Communist Party Secretary Zhao Hongzhu and the governors of three Chinese provinces at the Governor's Mansion. The governors were trailed by large entourages and between 30 and 40 members of the Chinese media.

"Part of this initiative is really to continue to help us strengthen our bilateral relationships," Reta Jo Lewis, the U.S. State Department's special representative in global and intergovernmental affairs, said in an interview.

In 2010, Lewis said, eight governors led trade missions to China and she anticipates that there will continue to be a growing number of exchanges in the future. In April, Herbert led a group of Utah legislators and business leaders on a trade mission through China.

Luo Huining, governor of the Qinghai Province in western China, who signed an agreement with Herbert on Thursday to work together on trade, environment, education and energy issues, emphasized the opportunities to collaborate on high-altitude medicine and alternative energy. The province has already invested heavily in solar power, Luo said, and is working on biomass energy production.

"The similarities between Qinghai and Utah are incredible in terms of global development and climate resources," Luo said through an interpreter. "We are inspired by Utah's success. At the very present, Qinghai is also developing its recycling economy and new energy industry."

Herbert pointed to Enefit, an Estonian company that recently bought out a U.S. oil shale company with plans to produce oil in the Uinta Basin as an example of a successful foreign energy partnership.

In January, China and the United States signed a sub-national memorandum of understanding, aimed at stimulating cooperation and interaction between the leaders of Chinese provinces and U.S. states.

As U.S. ambassador to China, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman played an active role in putting the agreement together, and was "something that had been of interest to him as Utah governor," Lewis said.

Lewis said she expects the Salt Lake City gathering will be a first, but other meetings will follow.

"We believe we will continue to see increased exchanges between provinces and U.S. states, and we'll see the strengthening of sister-city relationships that seem to be coming out of this effort," said Lewis.

Wang Sanyun, governor of the Anhui Province, said he is also eagerly anticipating cooperation between the United States and China.

"The distance is not a factor to create a barrier between us. I firmly believe this trip will result in more friendship between our two countries," he said.

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