In May, AEDC President Bill Popp joined more than two dozen Alaska companies — including half a dozen AEDC Investors — for Opportunity Alaska: China Trade Mission. China is Alaska’s largest trading partner and the trip, organized by the State of Alaska, aims to connect Alaska businesses with industry leaders, potential customers, key decision makers and government officials.
Greetings from Beijing!
Thursday was our first day of meetings and engagements in Beijing. Our day began with a meeting at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Terry Branstad and his senior staff. A former governor of Iowa, Ambassador Branstad has been on station in Beijing since being appointed to his post early in the Trump administration. His long friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping going back to 1985 makes him a perfect choice for his current position as U.S. Ambassador to China. We were all impressed with his views on the current tensions over trade and his belief that the trade talks are making good progress. While not willing to rule out a possible trade war, Ambassador Branstad seemed to downplay the likelihood of one breaking out. There were great discussions about the difficulties of entering the Chinese marketplace and the many kinds of assistance the embassy staff can offer to businesses seeking entry. A key contact I made in the embassy staff is Ms. Cynthia Griffin, Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs. She has a wealth of experience and knowledge and leads the commercial service staff of the embassy. Ms. Griffin can be reached by email at Cynthia.firstname.lastname@example.org. We departed the embassy with a much better understanding of just how complicated entering the markets of China can be if not done carefully and with the assistance of the skilled and experienced staff of the U.S. embassy and consular services.
Our group then broke off into three separate sessions in the afternoon. Our tourism members held a well-attended and very successful training session to help Chinese tour operators better organize, market and manage tours to Alaska. In speaking with several of my fellow trade mission members, they felt the training was a big success and will result in new tours to Alaska from China, benefiting several communities in Alaska. What they were most excited about was the fact that many of the tour operators want to bring tours to Alaska in the winter! That will be a nice economic boost to Alaska in what is normally a quiet part of the year for tourism.
The other breakout session involved our Alaska seafood industry trade mission members. They held a meet-and-greet tasting event for Chinese seafood buyers to help expand demand for Alaska seafood in China. Again, based on several reports from my fellow trade mission members, it was a great success! Great interest was shown by the Chinese buyers in attendance and we will very likely see a boost in demand for Alaska seafood in China in the coming years, especially for fresh products that have not been frozen. It was clear, based on the comments given to me, that Chinese consumers see fresh Alaska seafood as a premium product that has no equal in the world.
I attended the third session, which was a meeting with the leadership of the China Investment Corporation at their Beijing headquarters. Our group consisted of 20 members of the trade delegation. We met with the Vice Chairman and President of CIC, Mr. Tu Guangshao, and several of his senior staff. We learned much from this meeting, including the strong interest CIC has in making investments in Alaska in companies involved in seafood processing, tourism and other kinds of manufacturing. The corporation’s interest is part of a broader strategy to invest all 50 U.S. states. It has established a partnership with Goldman Sachs to create a $5 billion investment fund to make these investments. Governor Bill Walker has been in conversations with CIC for some time now and these conversations seem to be reaching a point where CIC will become actively engaged in the near future to identify investment opportunities in Alaska. Senior staff members have been in touch with me to set the stage for future talks with AEDC to help assist CIC in identifying potential companies in which to make investments.
As we wrapped up our business day, a group of us ventured out into Beijing for an authentic Chinese meal. One of our trade mission members grew up in Beijing and was our leader for this culinary adventure. The very small neighborhood restaurant we visited was amazing! By the time we ate our way through 16 freshly prepared dishes of amazing Chinese cuisine, we finally knew just how good Chinese home cooking really is. It was a night of fun and food that I will always remember.
Our very busy schedule continues this week with meetings that will include Sinopec, the General Administration for Sport and the leadership of the Bank of China, followed by a banquet in honor of the delegation hosted by the Bank of China.