OPINION: The vexed subject of sister cities is one that will probably never go away.
Inactivity breathed its own hiatus into the ongoing debate, but it was inevitably resuscitated when a South Taranaki District Council delegation visited its Chinese sister city Harbin.
New Plymouth ratepayers will also have reason to follow the debate with interest, especially with Mayor Harry Duynhoven set to lead a delegation to Japanese sister city Mishima in November.
That is bound to give rise to plenty of heated debate, and perhaps not coincidentally, it is almost a decade since a New Plymouth delegation went to its other sister city, Kunming in China.
Stratford ratepayers can relax on this occasion. The district does not have any sister cities, or even any others that are distant relations when it come to overseas destinations. Stratford's councillors and Mayor Neil Volzke don't stray beyond our national borders on official duties.
The perpetual debate, of course, is what benefits do ratepayers get from such a trip? It is a fair question and one that was asked by South Taranaki District councillors Kirsty Bourke and Ian Wards before the recent trip was approved.
Some of the answers were at least partially provided when delegates returned. The invitation for a delegation was sweetened by Harbin's offer to provide a permanent rent-free office for South Taranaki to promote itself to the five million inhabitants of Harbin.
That is not an opportunity to be sniffed at. Every city or district in New Zealand would jump at such a chance to maximise its appeal to an increasingly wealthy population who are becoming regular tourists to our country.
South Taranaki's business community was quick to seize the opportunity as well, with privately-owned company JCNZ Focus to operate and staff the office. Naturally, the council is hoping this public-private partnership will be a conduit for South Taranaki businesses to develop trade and tourism opportunities in Harbin and greater China.
It's well known that Asia, and China in particular, is a market full of traps for the unwary. Great store is held on introductions at mayoral level and significantly Ross Dunlop and his delegation were in discussions with the directors of the Harbin Agricultural Commission and the Livestock Bureau.
For a cost of around $10,000, the investment would seem to be a modest one, with a chance of returning potentially huge dividends to South Taranaki.
The council's mix of private and public investment could well become a model for other councils to follow. The message is clear: share costs and share the benefits.
There is still much to be done, but it is a promising start. The challenge now for the New Plymouth District Council is to be able to sell a similar message of potential benefits, firstly to its own councillors, secondly to the business community, and finally, to its ratepayers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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