Hong Kong trade representatives wowed Tri-City business leaders Friday, showing a splashy video with comets flying over the Asian city.
The video featured executives from Bank of America and United Airlines, along with celebrities like director John Woo and chef Mario Batali extolling the virtues of doing business with Hong Kong.
Tri-City officials hope that a memorandum of understanding signed Friday with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council will help them get in on some of that action.
The agreement promotes trade and business relations between Hong Kong and the Tri-Cities. But, perhaps more importantly, it could allow Mid-Columbia products to be better recognized in China.
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“What we haven’t had in the past in China is a contact,” Tri-City Development Council President Carl Adrian told the Herald after signing the agreement with the Hong Kong trade group at the Tri-Cities Business and Visitor Center in Kennewick.
“We need to listen to the trade development council about what the Chinese are looking for and what the volume might be, and what we need to do to market the product,” he said.
The idea is to make the Columbia Basin the strategic gateway to Asia for the food and beverage industry. The area has an advantage because agriculture is one of the few areas where the United States has a trade surplus with China, providing 24 percent of China’s agricultural imports in 2012-13, Adrian said.
Hong Kong, an autonomous Chinese territory, provides great access to mainland China, said Ralph Chow, regional director for the Americas with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
Fifty-seven percent of China’s direct investment goes through Hong Kong, Chow said.
“Hong Kong will play a very important role in bringing the mainland and United States companies together so they can both enjoy the economic opportunities,” he told the audience of about 50 people.
Washington state could help provide China with products ranging from wine to clean energy equipment, since China is struggling with air pollution from coal-fired plants, Chow said.
“The government is sparing no expense to clean up the pollution,” he said.
Chow’s group will help organize more United States trade missions to Hong Kong to help open more doors, he said.
The Tri-Cities can benefit from Chinese investment in new projects here, such as manufacturing, Adrian said. He pointed to statistics showing the United States has 80,000 jobs because of Chinese investment.
“We want to get some of those jobs here,” he said.
Kris Watkins, president of Visit Tri-Cities, told Chow that she hopes the agreement will help bring more Asian tourists to the Tri-Cities area.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, the former director of the state Department of Agriculture, visited China several times to promote Washington products. There should be interest in area products, he said.
“We’ve seen growth in things like cherries and wine, potatoes, apples, all kinds of crops,” Newhouse said. “What we grow, we grow well. I think there are a lot of opportunities, since we are the closest part of the continental United States to Asia. We should and we do take advantage of that.”