Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant says he is planning a trade mission to Uzbekistan in the autumn as part of the burgeoning ties between his state and its Central Asian partner.
In an interview with Capitol Intelligence during the recent National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, Bryant said Mississippi and Uzbekistan were tied together through the US Defense Department’s State Partnership Program between the Mississippi National Guard and the government of Uzbekistan.
Bryant’s trip could be the first time a US governor has made an official visit to the strategic Central Asian nation.
Bryant noted that Trent Kelly, a US congressman who also is a brigadier-general of the Mississippi National Guard, had recently visited Uzbekistan.
The visit by Bryant would follow some US$6.5 billion in US private-sector investments in Uzbekistan by the likes of John Deere, General Electric, Honeywell and Caterpillar after the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the Oval Office last May.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made a follow-up visit to Uzbekistan in October by keynoting a major financial investment conference in Tashkent.
The US sees Uzbekistan as a strategic partner both in terms of lessening US military involvement in Afghanistan and by curbing China’s ambitions in Central Asia via its Belt and Road Initiative to re-create the ancient Silk Road.
Bryant, not wanting to arrive empty-handed, name-dropped one of America’s largest rice-processing groups, the Greensville, Mississippi-based Uncle Ben’s owned by McLean, Virginia-based conglomerate Mars, Inc.
Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth-largest producer of cotton (4%-5% of global production), which accounts for around 17% of its exports and a large share of its foreign-currency reserves.
It is the common cotton heritage – both good and bad – that ties Mississippi and Uzbekistan together along with Uzbekistan’s critical role in the ongoing hostilities in neighboring Afghanistan.
There is talk of a second summit between Trump and Mirziyoyev in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of the world’s cotton industry and the blues.
Clarksdale is also the headquarters of the Delta Regional Authority that brings together the governors of Mississippi, Alabama (Regions Bank), Arkansas (Walmart), Illinois (Caterpillar), Kentucky (Brown-Forman), Louisiana (Entergy), Missouri (Emerson), and Tennessee (Fedex, International Paper).