Murkowski tries to drum up business with Taiwan

Taiwan is top 20 trading partner for Alaska

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE - During a brief visit to Alaska, the president of Taiwan discussed with Gov. Frank Murkowski ways to increase business opportunities.

Murkowski said several tentative deals were reached during the 24-hour stay, including the sale of salmon jerky to convenience stores in Taiwan.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and a delegation of 140 stopped in Alaska long enough to take a train trip packed with Alaska business leaders.

Alaska was the third and last stop for Chen after a visit to New York to pick up a human-rights award and a trip to Panama to help celebrate the country's 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal.

The visit to Alaska came about after Murkowski visited Taiwan and told the president he'd like him to stop in Alaska and bring along business leaders and government officials, Murkowski spokesman John Manly said.

Taiwan is a top 20 trading partner for Alaska, according to state officials. About 100 Alaska business leaders were invited on the train ride, chosen because their industries related to the officials and businessmen the president brought along, said Patricia Eckert, a trade specialist with the state.

Lin Yi-Fu, the Taiwan minister of economic affairs, said he talked to people about the fishing industry, paper products and natural gas, a major import for Taiwan.

The president flew into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Tuesday evening and dined at the Hotel Captain Cook before spending the night at Alyeska Prince Hotel. His entourage, which also included about 100 Taiwanese not traveling with him but who came to Alaska to see him, took up roughly 250 rooms.

Most of those traveling with him were people from his own office and security, but the pack also included about 40 journalists, government ministers and business folks.

Many came along just for Wednesday's train ride, which was set up for Taiwanese officials and businessmen to mingle with Alaskans.

Those who wanted to talk about agriculture and forest products could be found in car No. 4. Those looking for people to discuss energy and natural resources were in car No. 5. Those looking to talk to Chen and Murkowski couldn't because the pair were ensconced most of the time in a private car at the rear of the train.

In the seafood car, Andrea Meche, general manager of Trappers Creek Smoking Co., gushed to Taiwanese officials about a new smoked salmon jerky snack she hopes to sell in the 3,000 convenience stores in Taiwan.

She enticed the minister of agriculture to try a piece. Another man with him tasted the jerky and said in English that it was a little salty for Chinese tastes.

Meche said, "That's an easy one to fix."

She told him she could send him back to Taiwan with all the jerky he wanted.

"We hope to break into the $60 billion snack market" with the salmon, Meche said later.

In other parts of the train, competition was occasionally fierce to talk to Taiwanese executives such as the president of Chinese Petroleum or the minister of economic affairs. Business cards, often in Chinese with English translations on the back, were exchanged freely, and Taiwanese could be seen closely poring over maps of Alaska as Alaskans explained the economic possibilities.

The Alaska Railroad donated the cost of the ride and the catered snacks of baklava, papaya and green tea, said Wendy Lindskoog, a railroad spokeswoman. She said a conservative estimate of its donated costs is $20,000.

After the end of the 3 1/2-hour train ride from Portage and lunch at the Alyeska hotel, Chen took the tram to the top of Mount Alyeska, where he was greeted by two former Iditarod sled dogs and three 12-week-old puppies. He held a puppy for the cameras and stroked it as Murkowski petted another one.

Chen seemed genuinely delighted after a brief walk to an overlook, where he somehow found snow. He walked back toward the tram platform, grinning as he tossed the snow in his hand.

Chen left Alaska for Taiwan on Wednesday evening.

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