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ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is working with supportive lawmakers for a bill that would provide $60 million tax credits to encourage foreign trade through the Lambert- St. Louis International Airport. A similar bill to establish a "China hub" failed during the 2011 legislative year.

Slay said the new bill would not provide incentives to warehouse builders, but only to freight forwarders, which is a major difference compared to last year's bill.
"I think that people had most concerned about was the warehouse component list," Slay said. "The freight forwarding was a more general acceptance."

Rep. Chris Kelly, D- Columbia, said last year's "China hub" bill was a good idea, but wasn't written well.

"The bill was too loaded up for very few, very wealthy St. Louis business people," Kelly said. "There was not enough benefits for the whole society."

Kelly said the freight forwarding concept would be a better approach.

"Of course, depending on the structure of the bill itself, I'm very inclined to support the freight forwarder approach at Lambert airport." Kelly said.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, the director of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, said the bill would support an international air cargo at the airport.

"If we can build our plan, start with two or three flights a week, build that by flight by flight by flight. Over time, during the next three or five years, you could actually create a large international hub," Hamm-Niebruegge said.

Slay said this bill is for an international trade hub rather than just a China hub.

"The focus was on China because that was the immediate opportunity," Slay said.

Immediately after the bill died last October, China Cargo Airline canceled its weekly service to St. Louis. Hamm-Niebruegge said both the failure of the bill and a decline of Chinese exports contributed to the cancellation.

Hamm-Niebruegge said it is still challenging to partner with Chinese airlines due to the decreasing Chinese exports.

"I don't look at that necessarily as a determinant from others who want to coming in here," Hamm-Niebruegge said. "We've been talking to a number of countries. We've been talking to South America, Mexico, Europe, South Africa carrier. People know that we are trying to open a cargo hub here."

Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to Mayor Slay, said China Cargo Airline would have to compete if it wants to come back.

"We are gonna bring the cargo here. The airlines have to compete for that," Rainford said. "If they are the best competitors, they may get it."

Interested parties are working on a draft of the bill, which would be proposed during 2013 legislative session.