WisBusiness: Doyle optimistic about Wisconsin’s business chances in China

Urges businesses to stay the course when seeking to export

By Joanne M. Haas

MADISON — Gov. Jim Doyle says the state’s trade delegation to China so far has been welcomed warmly by officials who want to right the trade imbalance by importing more products, especially in agriculture, medical and construction.

“We expected that doors would be open for us. But they were opened even wider. I hope we are coming to China when they are feeling the pressure to improve the trade imbalance,” Doyle said, during an early morning conference call with reporters after he landed in Shanghai where it was about 9:30 p.m..

The governor said China officials “have been pretty direct” about the need for their nation to import more. “It is very clear their philosophy is to try and grow their economy and increase the number of imports to bring the trade more into balance. And that’s good for Wisconsin.”

"Agricultural products are very big on the list," said Doyle, who is leading the 80-member trade delegation that includes state officials, as well as representatives from various industries and business sizes. "We’re hearing a lot about Wisconsin ginseng. It is brought up before we ever bring it up.

"Dairy — there is a very major emphasis in China on improving their dairy operations," Doyle said. "This is a country, they repeatedly tell us, (where) the family has one dairy cow. And that dairy cow may be milked in a communal milking parlor. … There has been very little attention paid in that system over the centuries. … That is a major focus area."

Yesterday, Doyle, state Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen and others met with the Chinese Agricultural Ministry in Beijing. With more than 1.3 billion people and less available farmland acreage than in the United States, the governor said China will need to import much of their food as the nation works to upgrade its agricultural industry.

While the news that Wisconsin’s agricultural and other products can be marketed in China is good, the governor said he has had many discussions about the challenges and pitfalls state business operators will face when establishing a business relationship with the nation.

“The biggest lesson is don’t change your business practices when you come to China,” he said, adding another concern is the protection of intellectual property. “Don’t go to China and think the world is going to be all different.”

Other areas that have surfaced as big import possibilities for Wisconsin include medical technology, such as X-ray machines for the country’s 66,000 hospitals. The country also will host the Olympics in 2008 and will be looking to Wisconsin for help with transportation and construction. “Cranes will be needed,” he said.

Gov. Doyle also said he and other delegation members, who include some state officials, have repeatedly mentioned the need for the country to improve its labor conditions for workers.

Last year, Wisconsin exports jumped more than 50 percent, making it among Wisconsin’s fastest growing markets. Doyle was in China 22 years ago when he was a district attorney. The trip was a professional exchange arranged just as the nation was opening its doors to the rest of the world. He said things have changed dramatically in the last two decades, and he is interested in making more changes.

“Just as we see many labels … ‘Made in China’ in the United States, we want to see more and more ‘Made in Wisconsin’ labels in China,” the governor said.

The trip will end March 31.