Business talks open doors to Chinese market

Invercargill’s civic and business leaders have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow Southland businesses greater access to a market of 5.8 million people in Invercargill’s sister city, Suqian, China.

The document was signed in Suqian on Friday night (NZ time) after three hours of intense discussions between members of the visiting Invercargill civic and business delegation* and 15 high-ranking representatives from the Suqian Municipal People’s Government, businesses and tourism operators.

Deputy Mayor Rebecca Amundsen, Chamber of Commerce President Carla Forbes and Venture Southland Chief Executive Paul Casson signed the agreement on behalf of Invercargill and Deputy Mayor Cao Xiuming signed on behalf of Suqian. Suqian is a city of 5.8 million in Jiangsu Province, which has a total population of 80 million people.

Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Cr Amundsen said the agreement represented significant progress in the business relationship between the two countries.

“Suqian Mayor Wang is progressive and outward looking. He has made it very clear that he values the sister city relationship between Invercargill and Suqian and now wants to rapidly progress business and cultural opportunities between our two cities.

“It meant that substantial progress was made at the talks held on Friday. Having both the Chamber of Commerce and Venture Southland present meant that they were able to directly represent Southland’s interests and commit to progressing business opportunities with their counterparts in Suqian, “ Cr Amundsen said.

Specific exports the Suqian Municipal People’s Government said it wanted from Invercargill and Southland are:

  • Agriculture – beef and sheep meat – to help Suqian feed its rapidly growing population
  • Dairy products
  • Seafood
  • Wood
  • Wool and high-quality wool fashion products.

Mayor Wang spoke of sending a delegation to Invercargill between February and April 2018. Deputy Mayor Cao Xiuming wanted to send a business delegation towards the end of this year and spoke of sending experts to spend time with Venture Southland to investigate joint venture opportunities between Southland and Chinese businesses.

Chamber of Commerce President Carla Forbes told the Chinese that the sister city relationship with Suqian was particularly important to the business community. She pledged that the Chamber would arrange a trade and business showcase for members of the Suqian business delegation when they visited Invercargill. The Chamber would also facilitate introductions between businesses so they could pursue opportunities and would actively work with Air New Zealand to support tourism extension from Suqian.

The delegation also discussed tourism – highlighting what Invercargill and Southland have to offer and pledging to tailor tours to Southland that meet the specific needs of Chinese travellers. Suqian already has tourists travelling to Queenstown and Suqian’s Deputy Director of Tourism Wang Xiahong said that its close proximity to Invercargill meant that they could begin to include Invercargill and Southland in their schedules.

After the meeting, Mr Casson met with individual tourism operators to invite them to Invercargill, to experience it for themselves, so that they could identify exactly what attractions they wanted to offer to their clients.

Friday’s talks also highlighted opportunities in the fields of medicine – with the possibility raised about a staff exchange between Suqian First Hospital, which has state-of-the-art medical and pharmaceutical facilities, and Southland Hospital. Cr Lesley Soper, a former member of the Southern District Health Board and Cr Graham Lewis, an experienced pharmacist, would follow up on that upon their return to Invercargill.

Educational opportunities for students from Suqian to study at the Southern Institute of Technology were discussed. The idea of  “friendly schools” was also raised to encourage communication between schools in Invercargill and Suqian. Mayor Wang has offered to send a Chinese teacher to Invercargill to give people the opportunity to learn Mandarin.

The Chinese expressed a desire to learn about sustainable farming practices and agri-technology used in New Zealand, as they were keen to protect their environment and produce high quality, healthy food for domestic consumption.

Cr Amundsen said Suqian was keen to pursue sporting links, particularly after the success of Kaleni Taetuli, who was invited to represent Invercargill in Suqian for a year coaching schoolgirl rugby.

Ms Wang Yan, Deputy Director of Suqian Sports Bureau, said Kaleni was “professional and dedicated” and had lifted the skills and performance of players in just his first 45 days in the city. That was seen as a good beginning and  Suqian wanted to further co-operate on rugby and sport.”

Cr Amundsen said that Suqian was also keen to involve Invercargill in one of its main sporting events – the International Eco Quadrathlon which is an adventure sport race held in Suqian in September.

“Suqian would like us to help publicise the race in Southland – events in the Eco Quadrathlon have been won three times by New Zealand teams. Given our province’s sporting prowess, it would be great to see an Invercargill team enter the race too,” she said. Chair of Ride Southland (the Southland Cycling Governance Group), Cr Alex Crackett would follow up the idea with representatives of Sport Southland.

Cr Amundsen said the signing of the MOU and accompanying discussions had yielded opportunities on multiple fronts that would now be actively pursued in coming weeks and months.