Trade links between Nelson and China have strengthened with a third education partnership deal signed between the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and a top-ranked university in China.
Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency (EDA) chief executive Bill Findlater said an education exchange arrangement has been made with Hubei Polytechnic University in Nelson's sister city Huangshi.
Mr Findlater has just returned from China with Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio to follow up business development opportunities forged over the past year. The Nelson delegation met with NMIT's representative in China to help with the discussion.
Chief executive Tony Gray confirmed a partnership deal had been signed, adding to NMIT's existing partnership arrangements with the Hunan University of Technology and Zhejiang Water Conservancy and Hydropower College.
The latest partnership was yet to be signed off by the local education authority, but it was hoped it would be up and running by the start of the 2013 academic year, Mr Gray said.
He said NMIT had for the past seven or eight years offered students in China the opportunity to study papers provided by NMIT's commerce, information technology and arts and media degrees.
"The relationship is designed to provide an opportunity for students studying NMIT papers in China to progress a degree or cross-credit study towards one. Students can then come to New Zealand to finish their degree."
Mr Gray said the programme to run with Hubei university would be similar, but the added attraction was its link to Nelson's sister city, Huangshi in Hubei province.
The university has 15 schools, a fulltime student body of more than 20,000 and around 6000 long-distance education students.
Mr Gray said income for both in-China delivery of NMIT programmes and students coming to NMIT was around $1.2 million last year.
NMIT's wider international student programme was worth around $4m annually to the institute.
Mr Gray said revenue was one way to measure its success, but the important role for NMIT was in forging internationalism and in particular relations with China.
He said the latest arrangement was a good example of NMIT, Nelson city and the EDA working together to achieve progress.
The city council recently approved estimated travel costs of $5200 plus disbursements for Mr Miccio's trip to China and Japan.
Mr Findlater yesterday reiterated his view that the potential for the Nelson region by developing closer trade links with China was "enormous".
Mr Miccio said in a note on his Facebook page that China was also "very keen" on Nelson's reputation as a leader in producing nutraceutical products (natural health supplements).
"There is a big market in China when it comes to natural food and health products, which is good news for Nelson given our strength in these areas," he said.
Mr Findlater said green technology, the wine industry, investment in Nelson, tourism, plus research and development were also key areas of interest with the Chinese.
"Nelson has the highest number of people per capita employed in research and development than anywhere in New Zealand, helped by the Cawthron Institute, Plant & Food Research, Niwa and the natural products sector."
Mr Findlater said the emerging middle class in China would potentially translate to large numbers of visitors to Nelson, because there was a high degree of interest from Chinese in the region and its natural features. He was also keen to support the setting up of a distribution company in Huangshi to help get Nelson goods to markets.
"Within a radius of a four-hour drive from the city you can reach 400 million people, and a 12-hour drive you reach one billion people."
Mr Findlater said a Chinese distributor would handle the intricacies of dealing with markets which were big on protocol.
Mr Miccio said after his last visit that among the deals they planned to progress was a potentially lucrative online trading opportunity for Nelson businesses with China.
Mr Miccio told the Nelson Mail this week that a New Zealand-based company was facilitating the deal.
Mr Findlater said an Auckland-based company now had an agreement with e-commerce firm Alibaba.com and progress was under way with that, and it would not be only about Nelson, but the rest of New Zealand as well.
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