In China: Relationships Do Make a Difference

By Michael Darch

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The Consider Canada City Alliance’s day one in China kicked off with a morning briefing by our Embassy in Beijing, followed by a morning seminar to potential investors, and then a series of one-on-one meetings between our member cities and Chinese investors awakened to the possibilities offered by Canada’s cities.

Arranging meetings in China is different than in North America. Most decisions on meetings in China are made at the last minute. Our goal was to have 100 people at the seminar and four one-on-one meetings for each Canadian city. To reach those targets, we knew that we would have to have a solid partner in Beijing with a deep reach into growing Chinese companies looking to go global. We turned to Invest Ottawa’s long-term Beijing partner and China’s largest Science Park, the Zhongguancun Science Park, shortened to the Z-Park for westerners. With over 20,000 companies in the Park and an estimated 500 ready to go global, we hoped we had hedged our bets.

Jianhua Yang, Deputy Director General of Z-Park speaks to Canadian delegation in BeijingThe week before the event, we understood that 40 companies had signed up to attend the seminar with an average of two meetings per city. We were committed, so we forged ahead. By the Friday before, the seminar was overbooked with 110 attendees and each city averaging 8 meetings with some as many as 15 meetings! Invest Ottawa’s Sophie Chen, our prime meeting organizer, scrambled with the Z-Park team on schedule and logistics. A challenge, but a great challenge to have. Our belief in the power of relationships had paid off, now we had to deliver.

Our embassy briefing told the story of China’s amazing transformation. And it is, no matter how often you hear it. The trade and investment potential is enormous, and the numbers you see in the media are real. But so is the competition.

We have been working will DFAIT for months to integrate our value proposition with Canada's. What we drove home is Canada’s sound financial system, stable government, well educated and innovative population, transparent legal system, abundant natural resources, an economy built on global trade, and a growing political and economic relationship with China. All this with an understanding that every country is at China’s door.

Our seminar went well and the questions from the audience were to the point. Immigration visas are difficult to get. Over 80% of visas to Canada are approved and the average processing time is five days (not bad given there are 2000 applications a day).

Another logistical challenge was having lunch, followed by the three and half hours of meetings. Would the Chinese clients wait if they had gaps in their schedules? We knew that we had generated interest as we looked out at eight tables packed with people talking and at the back of the room, and more people quietly sitting waiting their turn for their meetings.

We also calculated that we had done our part to reduce carbon emissions in Beijing. Usually, we would have gone to the location of the company for the meetings. Given the traffic in Beijing, having even three meetings in a day can be difficult. Here, we had some 64 meetings in an afternoon without going out into Beijing traffic, and most of the companies were already at the site for the seminar.

To cap the day off, we had real results. Invest Ottawa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one of China’s largest financers of Clean Technology, the Juno Capital Group. The MOU is for cooperation in  the identification of high performing, clean technology firms in the Ottawa region that can address China’s priorities over the next five years. Invest Ottawa will recommend those firms to Juno for investment.

Our meeting at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) reinforced the concept that it is a small world. Our meeting was with the First Commercial Secretary in the Department of American and Oceania Affairs, Zhang Xinyu. She had just returned from three years at the MOFCOM office in Ottawa. A pleasant reversal, having someone in the Chinese office who deals with North America and she knows more about Canada than the US.

David Hartman of Invest Canada and Jia Huai of CCPIT in centre of photo

Our final meeting in Beijing continued the string of successes on this trip. We met with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). In April of every year, they hold an annual outbound investment conference in Beijing. We wanted to discuss our potential participation at the 2013 event. Not only did they agree, but they wanted to introduce a mechanism for the continuing exchange of investment opportunities.

Then we really tried to push our luck and suggested that CCPIT bring a group of investors to Canada to have a more direct look at the investment opportunities. They apologized that this could not be done as their plans were set for 2012, but it would be put in their 2013 program. They then asked us if we would consider committing to hosting an annual mission.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen again, we did take Beijing. On to Chongqing!   

(Michael Darch is the founding President of Consider Canada City Alliance Inc.)