China might be the land of opportunity, the engine driving the new global economy. But apparently, no one has told that to U.S. Embassy officials awarding exit visas.
It could be leading to some lost or unrecoverable opportunities.
The number of Chinese visitors to recent plastics-related trade shows in the United States has waned this year. The most telling sign was at Pack Expo International 2004, held in Chicago on Nov. 7-11.
The show fills almost 1.233 million square feet of McCormick Place and attracts close to 46,000 visitors. It is the premier North American trade show for the packaging industry, attracting a worldwide audience.
According to the Arlington, Va.-based Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, the show's sponsor, 68 people from China received visas and attended Pack Expo. But that represents only a slice of who could have attended.
PMMI's China office in Shanghai had sent invitation letters to 250 people in China, most of them top executives and many of them company presidents, said Jorge Izquierdo, PMMI director of global marketing. More than two-thirds of those invited chose not to or could not come to the show. At the 2002 show, a majority of those asked came to Chicago.
It is possible this time that those visitors didn't feel like bothering with a new visa system that has meant longer delays. Because of the problems, at least three Pack Expo booths from Chinese exhibitors were canceled. Some who could not come were hoping to buy packaging equipment valued at $400,000 or more, Izquierdo said. A few of those companies now are considering buying that equipment in Europe, he said.
NPE 2003 also lost some Chinese attendees, said Jordan Morgenstern, chief trade show and global affairs officer for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington. One large Chinese delegation representing at least 200 people was denied entry, he said.
The situation may point up the need for U.S. executives to travel to China on business and not wait for visitors here. But with trade opening in China like heaven's gate for many companies, any impediments to those new relationships need to be resolved.
And there are impediments. According to Izquierdo, visa applicants from China must pay a $100 fee - a large sum in China - and wait a minimum of 45 days before securing an interview to leave the country. Then, there's no guarantee of acceptance. U.S. officials sometimes ask for more documents, including income tax statements.
It can lead to lost business. Recent research from eight trade groups, including the U.S.-China Business Council, estimates that large U.S. companies have lost $30 billion since July 2002 due to visa hang-ups. Motorola Inc. lost a $10 million contract in Vietnam to supply two-way radios, while Lucent Technologies Inc. could not get visas for 14 Chinese employees who needed training in the United States, the research said.
It's a two-way street, of course. Especially since Sept. 11, no one can fault the U.S. government's tightening of the reins on our borders. And shows like Pack Expo can be successful despite the Chinese visitors who could not come.
But many of our best companies depend on overseas business to grow. Can our political borders and our trade borders coexist successfully?