By GOV. JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- Earlier this month, I returned from a productive, week-long trade mission to China. It was the first trip to China by a sitting West Virginia governor and I think we opened the door to more opportunities for our state's manufacturers and for a cleaner and safer coal mining industry in Asia.

I was joined by a number of West Virginia companies that already have established markets for their products in China, and some that are working to break into the enormous Chinese coal industry. The sheer volume of that country's coal production provides a huge opportunity to export our state's advanced mining technology and high-quality coal mining equipment.

China now is home to the world's largest producer of coal, and the country gets more than 70 percent of its energy from coal-powered plants. During our trip, I was able to visit the most modern facilities operated by China's largest coal company, Shenhua, in the Shanxi province. They are working on an experimental coal-to-liquids plant that could give us some answers about developing that technology here.

Our meetings were an eye opener for me in terms of grasping China's growth, and evaluating their coal technology and environmental issues. Without a doubt, when it comes to coal, West Virginia is a world leader in safety, and I think this is an ideal time to share that expertise with the Chinese.

I told them our goal in West Virginia is zero fatalities, and that we are rapidly making progress in equipment and procedures that will help us reach that goal. I challenged them to set the same goal for their operations, and told them we could work together to find better and safer ways to mine coal. They told me they, too, want to achieve zero mining fatalities, and they admire our achievements.

While some may be concerned China's coal industry could cost West Virginia coal mining jobs, I see an opportunity to export more of our products and technology to a country that can learn a lot from West Virginia. This trip was a major step in developing relationships to reach that market.

Time will tell if we share the same goal for cleaner, safer coal mining. But I do think we have a lot to learn from each other, and I hope to learn more in the coming months and our next trip to China.

Manchin is West Virginia's governor.

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