This is the first in a series of articles highlighting initiatives between Georgia and China. Georgia Asian Times will be presenting series involving business, arts, cultures, diplomacy, education, etc. between Georgia and the fastest-growing economy in the world.
By Kelly Proctor
When it comes to international trade, most Americans think of Florida and California as the traditional leaders. But as trade routes between China and the United States heat up, a group of business leaders in Atlanta are working to make sure Savannah and Atlanta get respect as well.
A new group is joining business and political leaders in Georgia to present a common, friendly face to China. The Georgia-China Alliance grew out of a resolution Sen. Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta) developed two years ago called the Georgia State Senate formed “Georgia-China Future” study committee in 2003. Recommendations from that group included developing a group of Georgia’s leaders to strategically place Georgia for trade with China.
While Georgia needs to create more jobs, China yearns to attract foreign investment and learn business, technology and tax skills from America – enter Georgia-China Alliance. Today, the Alliance is developing plans for trade between China and Georgia in the future.
The committee collected testimony from industry and academic leaders over six months and determined market opportunities, according to the Georgia-China Alliance Web site, www.georgiachina.com.
Though the group included diverse professions and ethnicities, it was united in its desire to place Georgia in line for trade benefits with the People’s Republic of China. Today, Georgia-China Alliance includes several senators and businessmen from Deloitte, Troutman Sanders, Arnall Golden Gregory and Alisias.
Why does Georgia need a group like Georgia-China Alliance? The group’s Web site cites the impressive economic growth figures China has set recently. China’s economy is one of the hottest and fastest-growing in the world right now, with a gross domestic product increase of 9.3 percent in 2003 and another 8 percent GDP increase expected in 2004. China does $192 billion in annual trade with the United States, triple the amount of trade the countries did in the mid-90s.
In addition, the growth of Georgia’s economy relies on global engagement through jobs, foreign direct investment and international corporate expansion. Georgia is losing key opportunities to network with the Chinese senior delegations visiting Atlanta and the southeast United States (see www.georgiachina.com). The Alliance’s plan includes promoting long-term relationships between China and Georgia in commerce, education and culture.
Georgia-China Alliance says that it will serve as a central point of contact and coordination for Chinese delegations and leaders visiting Georgia. In addition, it will provide opportunities for leader and business exchanges and development. The Alliance will communicate with Chinese business and government leaders through exchanges with the consulate office in Houston and leading Chinese organizations and media throughout the mainland.
Alliance members will benefit as the group promotes travel between Georgia and China. Hopefully, the travel will foster strong relationships between China and Georgia businesses and between Georgia delegations and Chinese leaders (www.georgiachina.com).
The group has substantial pull in the relations between the two countries. The Alliance organized a November 2004 visit from Li Junru, the vice president of China’s Communist Party.
Mr. Wei Hu is a member of the Alliance and an employee of Troutman Sanders LLP. A native Chinese, Wei Hu immigrated to the United States to pursue a law degree at Mercer University. “Atlanta needs to be a world city,” Wei Hu said. “There’s nowhere you can run, no where you can hide, (globalization) is happening,” he said.
“We can turn a blind eye (to Chinese trade), but all the benefits would go to California and Florida,” Wei Hu said. “But we can also put our heads together in Georgia and really benefit.”
The Alliance will organize business-led partnerships to expand commerce with China and will position Georgia to secure the next Chinese consulate, as well as planning for a government-lead delegation to China. The Alliance will also improve understanding of China within the University systems by creating a Board of Regents China Research group, according to the group’s strategic research.
“My feeling is that you have to ride a horse in the direction he’s going,” said State Sen. Sam Zamarripa, a representative of Atlanta and founding member of the Georgia-China Alliance.
“The Chinese economy will be a significant variable in the future – in fact, it already is,” Sam said. “Ultimately, Chinese success will be our success.”
Chinese business tradition differs drastically from American customs – while Chinese businessmen prefer receiving organized delegations, Americans tend to be much less organized. Georgia-China Alliance plans to help end the confusion in differing business customs by establishing a standard method and message for hosting delegations from China.
Zamarripa said the group is preparing to launch a membership drive. “We’re expecting hundreds of members,” he said.
During the past several years, China has positioned itself for huge economic gains. The PRC is currently the world’s seventh largest economy, with imports and exports growing more than 20% over the last two years, according to www.georgiachina.com.
China is Georgia’s fifth-largest trading partner, with the Peach State exporting nearly $650 million in goods there annually. Roughly two-thirds of all inbound containers at the Port of Savannah are from China, and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. has received regulatory approval to operate a daily nonstop flight from Atlanta to Beijing (which could carry a $400 million economic impact on the Southeast).
Several top Fortune 500 countries call Georgia home, including the Coca Cola Co., Home Depot, GE Power, Delta Air Lines and United Parcel Service, which is poised to become the largest logistics company in China. The Home Depot recently opened two sourcing offices in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Shenzhen, which manufacture flooring, lighting, fans and other consumer goods for the retail giant.
China has committed to reduce a number of tariffs on goods like agricultural products, textiles and services.
Compared with other United States cities like Jacksonville, Memphis, Nashville, Seattle and San Francisco, Atlanta ranks 12th overall for in competition for Chinese trade, according to a strategic survey conducted by the group. This survey takes into account government and fiscal policy, finance and domestic competition.
Georgia-China Alliance members like Wei Hu and Sen. Zamarippa have only positive hopes for the group in the coming years. “We’re expecting hundreds, hundreds of members,” Sen. Zamarripa said.
According to the Senator, the best is yet to come in the field of international trade. “The future is about how we’re working together,” Zamarripa said. “The future is going to be better than the past.”