By Vivian Nguyen
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Gov. Chris Gregoire will help local companies reach international goals during her upcoming trade mission to China and Vietnam this fall.
From Sept. 13 to Sept. 24, Gregoire will travel to Asia with representatives from 50 small and medium-sized businesses to create new export opportunities for the state.
“With our location on the Pacific Rim, Asia is a natural opportunity for Washington state businesses interested in export opportunities,” said Jason Kelly, communications director for the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
As the most trade-dependent state in the country, Washington can ship exports to Asia one day earlier than competitors in other coastal states such as California.
This is an advantage, and Gregoire has charged the state with expanding by $600 million from export state sales over the next five years.
“Government-to-government relationships are important when it comes to opening doors for economic development,” said Kelly.
“Not only will this trade mission help strengthen the economies of those abroad, but it’ll also promote job growth back here in Washington state.”
Plans for the mission
For the past year, Gregoire has been tentative about the trade mission due to the costs involved during a time of declining state budget. But there is a pent-up demand from the local business community to increase international trade.
“We’ve seen strong interest and commitment from companies willing to send CEOs or key people from organizations,” said Kelly. “Businesses want to create new international contacts in hopes that it’ll lead to increased investments or sales.”
During her trade mission, Gov. Gregoire, her delegation, and business representatives will travel to Beijing and Shanghai, China, in addition to Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The governor’s last visit to China was in 2005. However, the upcoming trade mission will mark her first trip to Vietnam. Gov. Gregoire will be the third Washington state governor to travel to Vietnam to promote export relations, after Gov. Mike Lowry and Gov. Gary Locke.
By being introduced to the right persons to override barriers of entry in China and Vietnam, Gregoire would open doors for local businesses that might otherwise face difficulties breaking into these markets.
“The government plays such a central role in the economy of these countries, so it can be difficult for small businesses to gain entry into a new, international market,” said Kelly. Much of Gregoire’s time will revolve around facilitating one-on-one meetings with Asian companies that local businesses might like to get to know. There will also be job expos in which both Asian and American businesses can participate and showcase what they have to offer in export sales.
The governor’s presence will also provide assurance for Asian companies that may be wary of conducting international business.
“Traveling with an official delegation offers a certain assurance and capacity to foreign businesses,” said Kelly. “It makes business exchanges more legitimate.”
The changing face of Asia
Asian companies are equally excited to meet American business representatives in hopes of finding investments.
“As the global economy has slowed down, the economic opportunities have continued to present themselves in China,” said Kelly. “The country has presented a real opportunity for Washington businesses.”
Washington state has historically held a strong business relationship with China. In the past, $600 billion in goods has been exported to China, including agricultural products, such as cherries and apples, wine, seafood, and aerospace equipment. Boeing plays a major role as an exporter.
Asians are also starting to develop a taste for a more Westernized lifestyle.
“China is accumulating more wealth to sell into restaurants and supermarkets, and Asian investors are looking to buy products that U.S. consumers typically enjoy,” said Kelly. Although Washington state is still building its business relationship with Vietnam, Gov. Gregoire sees the country as a real growth area and hopes to develop strong economic ties with the country.
“Vietnam is an emerging market that’s projected to grow by 6 percent over the next three years,” said Kelly.
As a budding economy with a young population, many foreign countries view Vietnam as a financial promiseland as it continues to urbanize and adapt to Western culture. Washington state has already exported $92 million dollars in commercial exports and $30 million in agriculture to Vietnam including the sales of beef, french fries, and apples, as well as software and electronics.
The sciences will also make strides in this trade mission. Jim Katzaroff, CEO of Advanced Medical Isotope Corporation, based in Kennewick, Wash., produces medical isotopes that are used for therapeutic applications aimed at battling cancer as well as other diseases.
He plans to target Chinese investors in Beijing who he hopes will invest in his company. “There are 20,000 hospitals in China so it’s a great market for us … we’re hoping to introduce our medical technology to investors since we have yet to ask for capital infusions in Asia,” said Katzaroff.
Katzaroff believes the business exchange would strongly benefit both countries. “Not only would we be able to increase our business efforts in that part of the world, but we’d also be able to increase our ability to help people in Asia.”
Going green in Asia
In addition to finding medical opportunities to help their communities, these countries are looking into renewable energy as a means to solve energy problems.
With its growing industrialization, Vietnam has already made investments to install wind turbines in rural communities where the infrastructure may not be as technologically advanced compared to the country’s more urban areas.
“This is an example of how the Vietnamese government is making major investments in renewable energy,” said Kelly.
“Many Washington firms work in this sector and are interested in pursuing these opportunities as Vietnam seeks to build a more widespread grid of green-powered energy throughout the country.”
But clean energy isn’t the only “green” export Kelly expects Gregoire to be touting.
“The governor is keen to promote Washington state tourism. Asian consumers, especially in China, are beginning to have more disposable income and are using it to travel more overseas,” said Kelly. “With our stunning surroundings, this state is full of natural beauty unlike anywhere else. [Washington state] is a destination that would be great for a first time visit or a repeat one.” ♦
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.