Dayton, businesses court trade with China

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2012 - 10:01 PM

Fifty leaders from state join the mission to improve economic ties. Summary.

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Gov. Mark Dayton in May.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Minnesota is making a big move to deepen its economic ties with the state's No. 2 trade partner.

On Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton and a group of 50 Minnesota business, agricultural and academic leaders departed for China on a 10-day trade mission that will include stops in Shanghai, Beijing and Xian. Some of the biggest names in Minnesota business, including 3M, Best Buy and Medtronic, along with various agricultural trade associations, will be making the trip to encourage more enterprise with the world's second-largest economy.

"The goal is to strengthen the current relationships and to build new ones," Bob Hume, Dayton's spokesman, said in an interview Friday.

The trade mission to China comes at a time when Minnesota has seen its exports to the Middle Kingdom rise dramatically over the past year. China's economy is expected to expand by 7 to 8 percent this year, dwarfing Minnesota's 1.2 percent growth rate in 2011.

Wells Fargo senior economist Scott Anderson noted that China's growth has slowed from recent years.

"Now, it will still probably grow, but it may take more arm-twisting than it has in years past. There are certainly more [U.S.] governors going over there looking for the same deal and so there is lots of competition to increase their Chinese trade," Anderson said.

Minnesota already enjoys a lucrative and fast-growing relationship with China, which imported $2.3 billion worth of Minnesota goods last year, triple the level purchased just eight years ago.

Ryan Kanne, director of the U.S. Commercial Service Office in Minneapolis, said the success of any trade mission is individual to the delegates participating. Some are unfamiliar with certain Chinese markets and need to get better educated, he said. Others need to understand exactly how their product or service might fit into the culture or business environment there.

"Each company has a different expectation," Kanne said.

Dayton's schedule takes full advantage of many existing partnerships. Dayton will meet privately with China's Vice Premier Li Kegiang. He'll also meet with the governor of Minnesota's "sister province" Shaanxi and observe the 30-year anniversary of the sister-state agreement. Interviews are scheduled with various Chinese media outlets.

Separately, Dayton will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Shanghai for the "Minnesota-China" office of the Twin Cities marketing group Greater MSP and the Minnesota Trade Office. He is also expected to join select delegates when they visit their Chinese customers.

The schedule calls for the entire 50-member delegation to dine at separate networking events hosted by Cargill Inc. in Beijing and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

Hume said that trade missions sometimes reap results immediately. He noted that a recent Minnesota trade mission to South Korea resulted in a lucrative sales contract being signed during that trip.

"Sometimes it's fast and sometimes not," Hume said.

Whatever the outcome, delegates will be busy until they leave for home on June 17, discovering new customers and distributors, interviewing U.S. companies already there and learning fresh marketing tips from U.S. Commerce officials and trade experts.

Katie Clark, director of the Minnesota Trade Office, said that China is Minnesota's top export market for some agricultural commodities such as soybeans and related food products. That creates opportunities for participating trade associations that represent farmers, processors and co-ops selling corn, wheat, soybeans, picks and milk products, she said.

Last year Minnesota also had strong exports to China of manufactured goods. Its top categories were machinery ($565 million); optics, medical instruments ($370 million); and electrical machinery ($338million).

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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