Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his AEDC director Mike Preston reported by YouTube this afternoon on their trade junket to China and Japan and they expressed optimism about new opportunities if a China trade agreement is worked out with the U.S.
In response to a reporter’s question, he essentially defended his son’s role in the trip as a representative of Chinese companies that have received state economic incentives, including in one case $1 million from the governor’s own quick action closing fund for a Jonesboro plant. He didn’t address directly the question of appearance of conflict in his role as a benefactor for clients of his son.
The governor acknowledged in opening remarks the uncertainty that Chinese officials have said was created by Trump trade policies and which have been cited in the failure so far of planned Chinese investments in a garment factory in Forrest City and a pulp mill near Arkadelphia.
Hutchinson acknowledged “uncertain times,” but said he believed after talking to the administration and others that the U.S. is “closer to a China trade deal than ever before.” Still, the potential for tariffs on equipment for the pulp mill and the potential for retaliatory tariffs on products made at the mill for shipment to China have changed the situation in Clark County since the plant was first announced.
The governor said China had approved four Arkansas rice producers for sale there if trade issues are resolved. He also said they’d met with companies that currently employ some 2,500 people in Arkansas and met with about 25 additional industrial prospects.
Hutchinson and Preston mentioned they were accompanied by Arkansas business people in addition to the state’s official entourage. They didn’t mention specifically, until asked by a reporter, about the presence of the governor’s son, Asa Hutchinson III, whose law firm lists several Chinese companies among its clients, including firms that have benefitted from state financial incentives.
Asked about his son’s involvement, Hutchinson said it wasn’t unusual for those with partners abroad to go at their own expense in support of such missions. He mentioned a timber industry executive and an official of an Indian manufacturer with a facility in Little Rock. The governor’s office had told the Times yesterday that his son paid for his travel, but the office has not responded to questions about the appearances in the governor directing state money to clients of his son.
“Attorney Hutchinson at his own expense came to China to support projects important to his client and also important to the state of Arkansas,” the governor said. He said his son had a “unique” international practice and he said he was “delighted to have that support.”
He said his son participated in at least one of the China meetings and the meeting with the ambassador to China. One correction about our reporting yesterday: Photos of Asa Hutchinson III provided to me came from his LinkedIn page, not his Facebook page. For example, he posted the image below on LinkedIn related to a company that received $3 million in state incentives to locate a garment plant at the Little Rock Port.
He also posted a photo of the Arkansans meeting with Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China.