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Firm wants to help companies do business in China

JACKSON — China is Mississippi’s seventh-largest trading partner and continues to grow. Companies of all sizes are doing business with this Asian giant, and others would like to do so.

As an organization that has been involved with the People’s Republic of China for many years, the Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz law firm hopes to ease language and cultural barriers for companies wanting to do business with that country. Toward that end, the firm hosted a luncheon seminar recently on “Doing Business in China: Demystifying the Asian Market.”

The firm maintains a representative office in Beijing and affiliates with other offices in Beijing and Shanghai. It also maintains strong government and commercial relationships in a number of coastal and inland provinces of China.

“Our firm has a very effective and active international law unit. That’s an area we practice in and we have a team that works in China,” Alan Moore of the firm’s Jackson office said. “That team came to Mississippi to let interested people here know the current view of China, international trade, issues and problems.”

He said the event was well attended with representation from a variety of businesses in the fields of telecommunications, computer software and manufacturing, along with some public entities that help make international trade happen for Mississippi businesses, including the Jackson-Evers International Airport, the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi World Trade Center. The seminar was also made available through webcast by the Mississippi Economic Council.

Barbara Travis, executive director of the Mississippi World Trade Center, said she was pleased to assist with promoting the event. “Baker Donelson has particular expertise in China as well as a full international division,” she said. “We call on the firm regularly for speakers at our educational workshops.”

Presenters included Joan McEntee, Rick Johnston and Don Forest. Collectively, they represent more than 50 years of business experience in China.

McEntee is chair of Baker Donelson’s International Practice Group and a former deputy undersecretary of international trade of the U.S. Department of Commerce. A seasoned internationalist, she has visited China 65 times.

Johnston is senior international advisor in Baker Donelson’s International Practice Group, a former commercial minister counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and former vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank in China.

The former head of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s China Office and Travelers Insurance representative in Beijing, Forest is currently a principal in an investment fund established to finance China projects.

Travis said there is always a mystery surrounding things we don’t fully understand. “While we are very aware of the exponential growth in opportunities for doing business in China, Mississippi companies still have much to learn about how to best navigate the Asian business waters,” she said. “For example, this seminar stressed the vital importance of developing strong personal relationships as being just as important, if now more so, than legalities and intellectual property protection.”

Moore says the culture, language, business practices and laws are very different in China. “A lot of folks think it’s too difficult and challenging to do business there,” he said. “It’s not. Many issues are the same as doing business anywhere. You just have to jump into the water with someone who knows about it and recognize the differences.”

There’s a huge, fast-growing consumer market for American goods in China. The large, bustling country also offers investment and manufacturing opportunities if Mississippi companies are careful and prudent with due diligence, he adds.

“If they do their homework and address the challenges of doing business, it can be good,” he said. “You can not do business there sitting at a desk in America or over the phone. You must go there and develop relationships with authorities and business people.”

Moore stresses that it takes an investment of time and resources to do business with China. The Baker Donelson firm has done that. “It’s not a short-term thing. We have people who’ve spent decades there,” he said. “These are people who truly understand how to work in that environment.”

Travis feels that seminars of this type are extremely helpful because they give small and medium businesses direct access to first-hand information and advice from professionals who have a wealth of knowledge and expertise.

“They are willing to share that expertise,” she said. “The more a company can learn up front about doing business abroad, the greater its chance of success and profitability.”

Moore says there was discussion of the enormous opportunities for small and medium size businesses. “There are many success stories of small and medium size companies, and more are finding out they can do business with China,” he said.

Travis says doing business is definitely the business opportunity elephant in the room.

“The priority sectors particularly highlighted in the Baker Donelson seminar were IT, healthcare, environmental, safety and security, clean energy, aviation and media/entertainment,” she said. “From my own perspective, I would add retail in general. The Chinese love American products.”

Most of the calls for trade assistance received at the World Trade Center pertain to China. “There is a growing interest in the Mississippi business community,” Travis said. “The programs we present on Asia are always well attended. I fully expect new numbers to show that trade with China has climbed higher than what the 2005 data reflects.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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