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China welcomes Georgia businessman

POSTED: April 19, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

Mike Giles, senior vice president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, was surrounded by Chinese children during a visit to Tianjin Project Hope Primary School, about 75 miles south of Beijing.

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Editor’s note: Mike Giles of Gainesville, a senior vice president of the Georgia Poultry Federation was part of a Georgia trade mission to China. The trip, led by Gov. Sonny Perdue, was an effort to expand exports to China, which is already a major consumer of Georgia poultry. In a special report for The Times, Giles shares his experience.

Last week I was fortunate to be part of a Georgia delegation that traveled to China to mark the opening of the state’s first economic development office in Beijing. We left at noon on Friday, March 28 and traveled for nearly 24 hours in sunlight, arriving the following day just after sunset.

As someone who has trouble thinking about the change from standard to daylight saving time, this was more than my jet-lagged brain could handle. I resolved to take everyone’s word for it. China time is easy to calculate since it is 12 hours ahead of Georgia time.

China is second only to Russia as a destination for United States’ poultry products. Poultry exports to China increased 98 percent in value from 2006 to 2007.

In a meeting with Bill Westman, minister counselor of Agriculture with the U.S. Embassy, we learned that practically all of China’s usable land is in production. With a growing population and a focus on producing domestic food crops, China is unlikely to be able to meet its future food demands without substantial imports. This bodes well for U.S. poultry and other agricultural exporters.

The demand for more protein in Chinese diets is certain to rise as household incomes increase.

To illustrate this, annual per capita consumption of poultry has increased from about 2.5 pounds in 1984 to nearly 25 pounds today. By comparison, the per capita poultry consumption in the United States currently stands at nearly 90 pounds.

While on the subject of food, I enjoyed everything that ended up on my plate, though admittedly I couldn’t identify it all. The Chinese meals that I had came in waves of small portions of simply prepared vegetables and meats, always capped off with a serving of fresh fruit in place of what we would normally call dessert.

The diet seems to be working, because I don’t recall seeing a single overweight person during my weeklong stay in Beijing.

We attended the ceremonial opening of the Georgia Beijing Business Advisory Center in the heart of the downtown Beijing business district. The office commands an impressive view of the future home of CCTV, the national television network of the People’s Republic of China. The skyscraper is an unusual two-legged structure that is sure to become the signature building in Beijing’s expanding skyline.

Business relationships in China are based on friendship and harmony. We were told that in China friendships develop, and then business follows. Sometimes in the West, the opposite is true. Our official meetings, receptions and meals with government officials emphasized the importance placed on developing friendships before doing business.

The Chinese government has even established an organization designed to foster friendly relationships with foreign governments and visitors. The group is named the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Leaders of the association hosted a formal dinner for Gov. Sonny Perdue, his wife, Mary, and a portion of our delegation in the former Italian Embassy, an elaborate building built in 1902.

Following a cordial conversation led by Gov. Perdue and the association’s Vice President Madame Li Xiaolin about the possibilities of building business relationships between Georgia and China, we were treated to an impressive 12-course meal. If a meal like that doesn’t build friendships, I don’t know what will.

Western influences can be seen everywhere in Beijing. Along with the expected McDonald’s and KFC restaurants, Beijing streets are lined with U.S. and other Western brand names. Most business and traffic signs are translated into English, and the well-maintained city streets and highways are filled with late-model cars that any U.S. citizen would recognize.

The traffic is Spaghetti Junction bad, and pedestrians risk life and limb when they venture across a city street.

People, cars and bicycles move about in a dance of organized chaos that seems to work just fine. I didn’t see an accident or hear an emergency siren during the entire week. I had to keep reminding myself that I was seeing only a tiny slice of China. There are 800 million people living an entirely different lifestyle in rural settings.

With the Summer Olympic Games just months away, Beijing has caught the same bug that Atlanta experienced in 1996 — everything is being done "just in time" for the Olympics. Sporting venues are nearing completion. The main Olympic stadium, dubbed the Bird’s Nest, will become familiar to TV viewers across the world this summer.

Large trees have been transplanted throughout the city in an attempt to beautify Beijing, though I believe the government has encouraged planting for years to cope with air pollution and sandstorms. The result should be spectacular when the leaves and blooms emerge.

The city is being freshly scrubbed and improvements are being applied all over as the country puts its best foot forward for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, when the eyes of the world will be on Beijing.

One of my most lasting impressions will be the high standard of living that some people in Beijing are enjoying. It is tempting to think about the explosive economic growth in China in terms of winners and losers in the global economy.

Another way to think about it is that the winners will be the countries and businesses that figure out how to hitch their wagons to this economic juggernaut. I hope that Georgia’s new office and the friendships being developed between our state and China will be the foundation for mutually beneficial business relationships for years to come.



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