Tri-City economic leaders announced this week a trade deal with a Hong Kong-based organization that could generate millions of dollars in business for the Mid-Columbia agriculture and wine industries.
Officials with the Tri-City Development Council and Hong Kong Trade Development Council will officially sign the agreement Aug. 7 at the Tri-Cities Business Center in Kennewick, according to a news release.
The deal has been in the works since January as officials from both organizations met, said Gary White, TRIDEC’s director of business retention and expansion.
Hong Kong officials declined to comment ahead of the signing ceremony. It’s yet to be seen how exactly producers will benefit from the arrangement.
Past efforts, specifically one focused on the wine industry, ended up being boons for the region, and TRIDEC officials see similar potential with the opportunity to reach further into Asian markets.
“We are elated about this,” White told the Herald.
TRIDEC began looking for a trade partner for the region after more than 70 companies in Benton and Franklin counties said in a 2014 survey that they wanted a new way to expand their markets.
Specifically, the council wanted to fully develop the Strategic Gateway Concept, a proposal to position the region as a major portal for the food and beverage industry.
“The key was finding the right organization (to work with),” White said.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council — the international marketing arm for Hong Kong’s traders, manufacturers and service providers — offered the perfect way to fulfill that goal, officials said.
Long a major trade center, Hong Kong is easier for American companies to work with than other Asian countries because its past as a British colony means less of a language barrier and greater familiarity with Western markets.
At the same time, Hong Kong is a major portal into China, which generally sends more products to the U.S. than it receives, except when it comes to agriculture. The U.S. accounted for nearly a quarter of China’s agricultural imports in 2012-13.
While many large national companies already have inroads into China, it can be more difficult for mid-level producers to do the same, White said.
Hong Kong offers successful wine and food shows that local companies could use to hawk their wares to new partners, and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council had representatives at this year’s Fabreo food and beverage show at Pasco’s TRAC facility.
“Most people don’t realize we have a horrific trade deficit with China except in agriculture,” White said. “Why shouldn’t we be their source of that?”