Jackson — It was more a case of East meets South than East meets West when Sarah Wu addressed the winter luncheon of the Mississippi World Trade Center. Wu is director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York. With China the fifth-largest market for Mississippi exports, she has an important message for state businesses.
“Hong Kong is a real marketplace, the gateway to China and very experienced in trades for decades.” she said. “It’s very attractive and can provide risk-free opportunities. I encourage Mississippi businesses to take advantage of these opportunities.”
Mississippi World Trade Center executive director Barbara Travis said the quarterly educational and networking luncheon is one of many programs that the four-year-old organization has to promote exporting and international business. She said Wu made good contacts and gave out a lot of business cards.
“One of our greatest functions is to make people aware of opportunities, especially small and mid-size businesses that don’t have as many resources. We try to serve everybody,” she said. “Ms. Wu gave excellent information and gave concrete examples in Hong Kong.”
Mississippi is 125 times larger than Hong Kong but Hong Kong has a population of 6.8 million. Hong Kong’s growth domestic product for 2003 was $160 billion in U.S. dollars compared to Mississippi’s $70 billion. The state exports more than $63 million worth of goods including plastics, meat, cotton, furniture and bedding to Hong Kong each year.
“Even though Hong Kong is a part of China, it is a free trade zone and enjoys a high degree of autonomy,” Wu said. “We have an agreement to continue the same policies as before 1997. Hong Kong runs its own economic and trade affairs and has special ministries to other governments. It’s a unique setting that Americans don’t understand.”
She said Hong Kong is also a member of the World Trade Organization and will host the organization’s yearly meeting there in December. A large delegation is expected from the U.S. Disneyland opens there in December, too.
“We have a special relationship with America, and it is our second-largest trading partner,” she added. “Hong Kong exports about $5 billion to the U.S. each year.”
Wu has been with the New York office for 3 1/2 years and is responsible for furthering Hong Kong’s trade with the 31 states east of the Mississippi River. It’s her duty to visit the capital cities of key states and so far she’s been to 25 states.
“It was my first visit to Mississippi and it was great,” she said. “I’m glad I made it. I like the opportunity to provide information about Hong Kong to businesses and find out more about them. Smaller companies do not have the resources to take risks. We can facilitate and point them in the right direction; connect them with suppliers and importers.”
Wu was especially pleased to meet with a Mississippi family business looking for a supplier of garden furniture and decorations. She was able to give them names of companies with whom they may be able to do business.
“That’s the type of company I can help. Once I know about needs, I can bring them together,” she said. “I can reach out to them apart from speaking to officials.”
Officials Wu met with on her brief visit included Gov. Haley Barbour’s chief of staff Charlie Williams and Mississippi Development Authority’s Gena Lentz, international trade specialist, and Hal Shipley, Asian business development manager.
“We had a good meeting,” Lentz said. “Hong Kong has been one of our top trading partners for many years. We are definitely working to increase the trade with Hong Kong and Mainland China.”
Wu was delighted to learn that Gov. Barbour is planning to visit Asia in August. “We welcome his visit and urge him and the MDA to stop in Hong Kong. They will have a better understanding of how we compliment each other,” she said. “We hope to see more contacts with Mississippi.”
In addition to New York, there are Hong Kong Economic and Trade offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The main duties are attracting direct investment into Hong Kong, promoting economic ties and trade and in general promoting understanding and the image of Hong Kong.
“I try to visit as many places as possible and where I can have the greatest impact,” Wu said. “I hope to visit Mississippi again.”
She likes reaching out to decision makers to be a bridge or liaison with Hong Kong. She is also trying to get U.S. companies to set up offices in Hong Kong. Currently, American companies have 256 regional headquarters, 557 regional offices and 401 local offices there.
Wu also likes speaking to university students and will organize programs for them in Hong Kong, making suggestions, arrangements and appointments. “I will do whatever I can to welcome them and make their visit worthwhile,” she said.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.