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Dayton opens a trade office in Shanghai and celebrates the 30-year anniversary of Minnesota's sister state relationship with Shaanxi Province.By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

Gov. Mark Dayton recently returned from a trade mission to China that included a 50-member delegation of business and industry association executives, higher education leaders and state government officials.

China Insight prepared this article with information provided by the Minnesota Trade Office, along with comments from participants who went on the trade mission, which traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian (the capital of Shaanxi Province) on June 8 to 17 for market and industry briefings, business matchmaking events, networking events and meetings with key U.S. and Chinese government officials.

According to a statement by Dayton prior to embarking on the trade mission, "Building relationships with Chinese leaders, expanding markets for Minnesota products and encouraging reverse investment are all aimed at growing our state's economy and crafting more jobs for Minnesotans." This was Dayton's sixth trip to China but his first as governor.

“China is a growing market for Minnesota manufacturers, service providers and agribusinesses,” said Gov. Dayton. “I look forward to leading this prestigious delegation of Minnesotans, who well-represent our diverse economy and globally competitive products. Building relationships with Chinese leaders, expanding markets for Minnesota products and encouraging reverse investment are all aimed at growing our state’s economy and creating more jobs for Minnesotans.”

With sales of US$2.3 billion in 2011, China is Minnesota’s second-largest export market for manufactured goods. It is the state’s top market for agricultural commodities and related food products, with purchases of US$1.35 billion in 2010.

State export growth to China is expected to continue providing excellent opportunities for Minnesota companies to sell manufactured goods, services and agricultural commodities.

During the mission, delegates were able to explore new trade opportunities, gather market insights, acquire business contacts and potential partners and distributors, as well as working to attract Chinese investment in Minnesota.

“Entering a new foreign market or expanding existing operations requires sound market intelligence, experienced technical expertise and key business connections,” said Katie Clark, director of the Minnesota Trade Office. “Our trade mission to China provides these essentials for companies and organizations exploring this market and looking for new opportunities for export growth.”

Agribusiness is strongly represented, which makes sense given that China accounts for more than one-fourth of Minnesota’s agricultural exports, said state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, who traveled with the delegation.

“In the past 10 years, our ag exports to China have jumped 800 percent, mostly driven by exports of bulk and intermediate commodities,” said Frederickson. “China’s the top buyer and the main market for Minnesota soybeans and a growing market for our pork.”

Dave Preisler, executive director of Minnesota Pork Producers Association, said his group has gone on several missions to China and will keep going. "It's just a function of the fact that it's a pork-eating culture and there are a lot of people," Preisler said. "Just a 1-percent share of the Chinese pork market is US$1 billion."

To showcase Minnesota companies and export industries and promote the state as an ideal destination for Chinese foreign direct investment, the delegation hosted three large receptions in Beijing, Shanghai and Xian. High-ranking Chinese government officials and top executives from Chinese companies met Gov. Dayton and were able to network with Minnesota company executives in the delegation.

Accessing market intelligence and strengthening relationships with key in-market trade organizations, including the US-China Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, was also a key focus.

While in Xian, Gov. Dayton visited with Gov. Zhao Leji of Shaanxi Province, which is Minnesota’s official sister state in China, to reaffirm the official ties between the two states and celebrate the 30th anniversary of this partnership.

The signing of the sister-state agreement with Shaanxi Province in 1982 marked the official beginning of Minnesota’s relationship with China, and it set the stage for many of the business, cultural, educational and governmental ties that have followed.

Minnesota’s relationship with China dates back to the 1870s, when the first Chinese immigrants traveled to the state. Over the decades, the bond between China and Minnesota has grown significantly and today, Minnesota enjoys many sister-province and sister-city relationships, academic partnerships, business relationships, and cultural and humanitarian ties. Gov. Dayton’s delegation traveled Shaanxi Province, home of the famous terra cotta warriors, to meet with Gov. Zhao and other Shaanxi Province officials. They participated in a banquet for the delegation and celebrated the bond that has grown between our states.

How did this great sister relationship begin? Between 1979 and 1981, a dedicated group of US China Peoples Friendship Association Minnesota (USCPFA-MN) volunteers, spent countless hours to make this dream a reality. Volunteers initially proposed the idea for a sister relationship to USCPFA-MN Chapter President, Fred Ptashne, who enthusiastically approved the idea. This was followed by an official trip to Shaanxi by a Minnesota delegation to meet with Vice Governor Li Lian Bi to discuss details about creating the sister relationship. Minnesota Gov. Al Quie and Shaanxi Gov. Yu Mingtao formally signed the sister-province agreement at a ceremony in St. Paul, Minn. Oct. 19, 2012, will officially mark the 30th anniversary of our sister-province relationship.

Insert photo with following caption
Gov. Dayton speaking during the Minnesota-Shanghai signing ceremony and press conference.    
  MinnPost photo by Adam Minter

Minnesota and Shaanxi have since developed strong goodwill. The cities share much in common - both are unique cultural centers, expanding industrial centers, important agricultural areas, and both have prestigious colleges and universities. Xian, in Shaanxi Province, was China’s capital for many dynasties, beginning with the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, who unified China during his rule (246-210BC). The Terra Cotta Army Museum, built over the pits of clay soldiers and horses that were to guard Emperor Qin’s tomb. As part of a unique cultural exchange, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will host an exhibition of terra cotta warriors this fall, in the exhibit ‘China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy’.

Sister relationships are important official links between governments. Minnesota has benefited from our sister relationships by a heightened cultural awareness, better understanding of governments abroad, and a rich education exchange. Economic benefits include increased tourism, heightened awareness of international affairs and the creation of reliable business and trade partners. The Dayton administration is committed to strengthening our ties and fostering a positive business and cultural exchange with China through these relationships.

According to an article on by Adam Minter, the Shanghai correspondent for Bloomberg World View, Dayton repeated a handful of anecdotes during his ceremonial and informal appearances in Shanghai. In an anecdote Minter heard most often, Gov. Dayton told a Chinese reporter, “It’s sometimes hard to get the recognition of the value of these trips.” Dayton went on to say, “And I remember one Chinese official when I visited some time ago, he told me: ‘First [a] stranger, second time [an] acquaintance, third time [a] friend. Chinese officials really appreciate the continuity of relationships.’”

“It’s an anecdote that few businesspeople in China would find objectionable. Trust in business relationships takes time, especially between such disparate – and distant – cultures,” observed Minter.

Minter goes on to note, “One way to build that trust is to hold meetings like the one [held recently in Shanghai.] Another is to open a China-based trade office, as Minnesota did in 2005, that provides continuity and a contact for Minnesota and China-based business on the ground in China. […] Dayton opened a new version of that Minnesota trade office, combining it with an outreach office that had been formed by Greater MSP, a private-public partnership chartered to further the interests of the Twin Cities in general. According to Michael Langley, the CEO of Greater MSP, the organization has set the goal of 100,000 new jobs in the Twin Cities by 2016. If Greater MSP hopes to come close to that goal, it’s going to need to find investors from developing Asia, and cash-rich China, in particular.”

Now that Gov. Dayton and his staff have returned to Minnesota, “they’ll start the busy and relentless process of following-up with [many of] the Chinese businesses thinking about Minnesota as an investment, rather than just as a place where they can send low-priced exports” concluded Minter.

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