I am pleased to have the opportunity to return to Asia this week on a trade mission along with ten California companies looking to establish stronger relationships in the region. One of our first stops was the California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai, which was opened in April of this year by Governor Brown. It is a valuable resource for California businesses as a venue for meetings, temporary office space, and an opportunity to connect with staff members who are eager to assist California companies interested in doing business in China, which is California’s third largest export market for agricultural products, with over $1.7 billion in shipments in 2012.
During our briefing this week with the Foreign Agricultural Service Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) of the United States Department of Agriculture, we learned that China is still a fast-growing market for food, beverage and agricultural commodities. We heard from two importer/distribution companies with over twenty years of experience importing products to China. Both firms, Goodwell China and the Nanpu Group, have impressive infrastructures to reach beyond first-tier cities in China’s coastal areas (Hong Kong, Shanghai) to service second-tier cities throughout the country’s vast interior.
When I last visited China in the spring, our delegation learned how significant on-line shopping has become for the food and beverage industry, and that was underscored during our briefing with the ATO. A major company in this realm is Yihaodian, the number one on-line provider in the food and beverage category. The company started in 2008 and has seen remarkable growth fueled by its creativity and the demographics of its middle-income users. As the ATO staff briefing us explained, the company’s users represent “bigger buying power looking for better life.” The company is focused on apps for mobile users, which is important for connecting with hundreds of millions of consumers throughout China.
On this visit I also had the opportunity to meet with Director Sun Lei with the Shanghai Municipal Agriculture Commission. The region has 1.5 million farmers with an average farm size of about one hectare. Mr. Sun expressed concern about the pressure on farmland to be more productive, to minimize the environmental footprint of farming, and to improve food safety practices. The commission is also focused on the challenge of attracting new and younger people to farming. We enjoyed a lively discussion about the importance of cooperation and collaboration on these kinds of issues, which are key to the future of all people, regardless of where they reside on our planet.
Economics – the search for new markets – is the primary objective of this and all agricultural trade missions that CDFA sponsors with our partner, the California Center for International Trade Development in Fresno. However, the connections we make with the Chinese people and the government leaders remind me of our shared aspirations for a better world and the vital role agriculture plays to improve the quality of life of our citizens.
Secretary Ross is in Asia as part of trade mission organized by the Fresno Center for International Trade Development and supported through a grant by the U.S. Small Business Administration.