New London - State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, who spent a week in Taiwan earlier this month with a delegation of elected officials from Connecticut and one from New York, thinks the state should open an office in Taiwan to look for more opportunities for trade with that country, the Republic of China and other Asian nations.
"If it could create jobs here, it would make economic sense,'' said Hewett, who led the delegation from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14, delivering a legislative resolution commemorating the 14th anniversary of the Connecticut-Taiwan Sister State Relationship.
Also on the trip were state representatives Larry B. Butler, D-Waterbury; Bruce V. Morris, D-Norwalk; Charlie L. Stalwart, D-Bridgeport; and New York Assemblyman Phil Ramos, D-Central Islip. Representatives from New Jersey were supposed to join the group but dropped out at the last minute, Hewett said. The Taiwan government paid for the trip, he said.
Hewett would like Connecticut to join 12 other states, including Alaska, Florida and Pennsylvania, that have offices in the Taipei World Trade Center in Taiwan, at a cost of about $4,000 a month, he said. The World Trade Center complex includes an exhibition hall, an international convention center, an international trade building and a Grand Hyatt Hotel.
"Good relations with Taiwan, to me, is a no-brainer,'' he said Tuesday while discussing the trip. "Taiwan is the gateway to Asia."
The state already does business in Taiwan, to the tune of $106.59 million in exports in 2012, making it one of the state's major foreign markets, according to the resolution that was presented to Remus Li-Kuo Chen, deputy director general of Taiwan's Department of North American Affairs.
The resolution recognized the ties Connecticut has had with Taiwan for 14 years and reiterated support for a "closer economic and trade partnership between the United States and Republic of China (Taiwan)."
Butler agreed that Connecticut should try to open an office in Taiwan. The next step, he said, is to research what kind of businesses would be open to establishing an exchange with Asian markets, and to come up with goals.
Among the possibilities, he said, is Connecticut agriculture. Taiwan has changed from an agricultural society to a science-based one and has given up a lot of its farmlands for science and technology parks, he said.
"It wasn't just a pleasure junket,'' said Butler, who added that the trip was an opportunity of a lifetime. "It was learning a lot about the country, and we did. I took it all in. ... I see an opportunity to further advance Connecticut and help our small businesses."
At the Taipei World Trade Center. the group saw displays of goods that are imported to Taiwan, where about 23 million people live in an area about the size of Maryland. Taiwan is also considered the gateway to trade with mainland China, which has a population of 1.3 billion people.
According U.S.-Taiwan CONNECT, Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs website, Connecticut sells chemicals, electronic equipment, appliances, components, machinery and computer and electrical products to Taiwan.
"Our gift bags we brought over were made in Taiwan," Hewett said. "How ironic is that? We need to get back to making stuff. More trade could create jobs here."
Butler also noticed that the Connecticut state pins he brought to share had been made in China.
Morris, of Norwalk, said the group, including Ramos from New York, returned to the United States committed to finding ways to open an office in Taiwan and create opportunities for Connecticut businesses.
"Each of us came back encouraged to lobby our governors and our legislatures to look into this and see what we can do quickly," he said. "It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs here. And Taiwan is in a position to help us create jobs."
For a minimal investment, which Morris estimated to be about $100,000 a year, the state could expand its presence in Taiwan, including in the biotech industry. The state could also benefit by an agreement to educate Taiwan students at Connecticut state universities, he said.
According to the U.S-Taiwan CONNECT, a trade agreement between Taiwan and mainland China signed in 2010, would allow Connecticut businesses to collaborate with Taiwanese companies and use Taiwan as a gateway to other growing Asian markets, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
"Wouldn't it be nice to get a foothold in there," Morris said.
Three years ago, Hewett said, he received an email from the Taiwan Economic Cultural Organization, which was looking for Connecticut officials interested in expanding relations.
"I wrote back that if this is a joke, I don't have the time or the patience," he said, during an interview Tuesday. "It was no joke."
He made his first trip to Taiwan in 2010. Three years later, officials there asked him to introduce the resolution to the Connecticut legislature. It died in committee, he said, but was resurrected and passed in June.
The representatives are not the first in the state to begin to notice opportunities abroad.
In May, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill led an eight-day trade mission to mainland China with leaders from the state's aerospace, biotech and pharmaceutical industries. In 2012, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited China to participate in the World Economic Summit.