Sister city seen as key

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
Business in China
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
From left, Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson, Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Hay , NZ Ngauranga marketing and development Mirko Harnisch and NZ Ngauranga directors Alexander Steir and Thorsten Gebhard discussing small Southland businesses in China.

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An economic boss is chasing hard after business ties in Suqian, with the hope of providing an entry point for Southland businesses to one of the world's biggest markets.

Invercargill City Council members will travel to new sister city Suqian later this month to reaffirm its relationship with the eastern Chinese city - and along for the ride will be Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson.

Casson wants to make Southland businesses aware of Suqian, so they have the opportunity to develop relationships and attract foreign investment.

The sister-city relationship would prepare a platform to one of the biggest markets in the world, he said.

Yet many big Southland businesses are already well established in China. While the large businesses say they benefit from more resources, it's smaller companies that struggle to gain a foothold.

Alliance Group is perhaps the biggest Southland success story in China.

It has worked in China since the mid-1990s and is now the largest exporter of New Zealand lamb to the country.

The co-operative began exporting to traders in Dalian in the mid-1990s and has been working with in-market partner Grand Farm since 2000. Grand Farm is the best known distributor and marketer of top quality red meat in Northern China.

It is looking to grow and expand its various lamb and mutton cuts into the country, from lower-valued cuts to higher-end retail and food service products.

Last year, Alliance Group and Grand Farm launched Grand Alliance, which is designed to further grow business between the two companies.

Their work includes a consumer research programme in China, new product development, and ensuring Alliance Group products continue to meet the changing tastes of Chinese consumers.

Last year, Alliance Group won the Excellence in NZ and China Trade category at the New Zealand China Trade Association awards, and was also a finalist for the New Zealand China Trade Association's supreme award.

Alliance Group general manager marketing Murray Brown said it benefited from Government Free Trade negotiations, which provided market access.

Ngai Tahu Tourism was also doing well in China.

Regional general manager David Kennedy said it was harder for smaller operators to make it into China, and his organisation was lucky to have the resources to get ahead.

It has also employed Chinese staff to help in the market. Organisations such as Venture Southland were helpful for smaller businesses and Ngai Tahu Tourism still relied upon Destination Queenstown for insights into marketing changes, shifts in the market and product development.

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China was like any new market with cultural changes and language barriers but it was worth getting into.

South Port chief executive and Export South chairman Mark O'Connor said a lot of larger Southland businesses were already establishedin China.

South Port had seen an increase in trade to the Chinese market.

However, it was more challenging for small and medium businesses to break into the market and the difficulty was the ability to supply sufficient volumes of product, O'Connor said.

Seriously Good Chocolate director Jane Stanton said she overcame this hurdle with the help of The New Zealand Focus store in China.

It provides a gateway for consumers in China to experience a wide range of products from New Zealand.

A number of other small and medium food-related businesses in the region had done the same, she said.

"I could never have made my way into that market alone."

Venture Southland had also supported her business with advice.

Casson has enlisted the help of New Zealand Consul-General to Shanghai Matthew Dalzell, who is based in Shanghai, to help strengthen economic opportunities and develop relationships.

Dalzell had assisted Invercargill City Council with establishing a relationship with Suqian, and would now use his contacts to potentially open significant trade opportunities between the cities, Casson said.

Casson recently met Dalzell and other trade ambassadors from Asia and Europe to discuss the strengths of the Southland regions and the business opportunities available.

"We looked at the economic drivers, trade, exports and factors that inhibit growth, such as the high dollar and a small skilled labour force."

In Suqian, he wants to explore business opportunities for smaller southern businesses.

During this trip, Casson wants to gather information about manufacturing.

It was important to expose the Southland region to businesses in China and maintaining a relationship was key to any successful venture, he said.

Southland Chamber of Commerce president Sean Woodward said Casson would bring back knowledge that would help small businesses get ready for a market as large as China.

The long-term relationships Casson made would be a key part of the chamber's Asia strategy, he said.

- The Southland Times

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