Commentary: Creating jobs from across an ocean

By Tracey X. Zheng
For Northwest Asian Weekly

Tracey X. Zheng (left), a Chinese American business lawyer, went on a trade mission to China and Vietnam in September with Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire. Zheng was one of more than 100 delegates on the trip. (Photo provided by Tracey X. Zheng)

On Sept. 13, I, along with my colleague Randy J. Aliment, accompanied Gov. Chris Gregoire on a trade mission to China and Vietnam in an effort to expand export opportunities, encourage new investments, and create new jobs in Washington state.

In total, there were more than 100 delegates on this trip, including a diverse range of business, education, science, and technology leaders. As a Chinese American business lawyer from Washington, my goal on this trip was to facilitate introductions for U.S. companies interested in doing business in China, and to provide information to Chinese companies interested in doing business and investing in Washington state.

Washington state has had a long and cooperative relationship with China dating back to the 1860s when the first Chinese immigrants arrived in Seattle. In fact, when Chinese President Hu Jingtao visited the United States in 2006, his first stop was Seattle.

In 2005, Gov. Gregoire embarked on her first trade mission to China. The business relationships and agreements made during that trip have since netted $23 million in sales for Washington companies. For example, since the 2005 trip, the export of Washington cherries went from $0 to $12 million dollars. On this particular visit, I was astounded to find that a pound of Washington cherries cost $45 USD in Shanghai.

Despite the economic downturn in the United States and most of the world, the Chinese economy grew nearly 9 percent in 2009 in large part due to strong government stimulus investments. This growth has created a large and growing middle class in China, who are now demanding even more world class products from around the globe. In addition to the large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, China has a growing class of second tier cities, with populations that far exceed that of most cities in the United States.

Recognizing the potential markets in China and the rest of Asia, Gov. Gregoire established the Washington Export Initiative designed to open additional export opportunities for Washington businesses and create new jobs for Washington residents. Under the initiative, state agencies have been charged with helping to increase the number of Washington companies exporting by 30 percent and with aiding 5,000 Washington businesses to achieve $600 million dollars in new export sales over the next five years.

With 8,000 Washington companies currently exporting products and services overseas, Washington is the largest U.S. exporter on a per capita basis. In addition, one in three jobs in Washington is tied directly to trade. Efforts to expand Washington’s strict trading opportunities will also complement the national export initiative and President Barack Obama’s plan to double U.S. exports by 2015.

China will continue to play a large role in the success of Washington exports. China has imported $5.8 billion dollars in Washington products in 2009. In the area of agriculture products, China and Hong Kong comprise the third highest consumer with $363 million in sales, an increase of 38 percent since 2005.

Washington’s top food and agricultural exports include seafood, french fries, apples, cherries, frozen vegetables, dairy products, and hay. Wine and other processed foods are also seeing growing opportunities with the expansion of restaurants and supermarkets in China.

In addition, China is the fastest growing source of global tourism, and it is expected that by 2012, nearly 100,000 Chinese tourists will visit Washington state.

To support and facilitate the governor’s mission to Asia, many organizations stepped forward to provide assistance and help.

The Washington State Bar Association’s International Practice Section, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Commerce, specifically released the fully revised and updated fifth edition of “Doing Business in Washington State,” for the governor to take with her on this trip.

The guide aims to introduce foreign investors and business people to the basics of what they need to know to do business in Washington state. By helping to create a basic understanding of legal and business issues, the guide will provide foreign investors with more assurance in doing business with and investing in U.S. companies.

This trip was a great success, as the governor and the delegates were able to effectively promote Washington products and businesses, while supporting foreign individuals and businesses interested in investing in Washington. At the same time, the trip facilitated educational and cultural exchanges between Washington state and China.

The results from this trip were seen immediately. During our time in China, four different schools in Washington signed Memorandums of Understandings with schools in China, and the American Enterprise Center in Shanghai pledged to invest in and assist two Washington biomedical companies, Goespize and Iverson Genetics, to enter and succeed in the rapidly growing Chinese market.

The center also told the governor that it is looking to invest in possibly hundreds of Washington companies over the next five years. Although the trip to China was only six days long, I believe the success of this trip will be felt for years to come. ♦

Tracey X. Zhang can be reached at tzheng@williamskastner.com.

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