GUANGZHOU, CHINA (May 16, 3:45 p.m. ET) — A U.S. government trade promotion office in China is focusing on plastics as one of its industries to try to boost American exports to the country, as part of a federal government initiative to double U.S. exports worldwide.
The U.S. Commercial Service office in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou says it is has identified plastics-related exports to the Chinese market as a target, and is putting more resources and staff time toward helping American firms in the sector.
Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, is one the largest provinces for plastics product manufacturing in China. The American officials there see opportunities to target trends in Chinese manufacturing such as demands for more energy efficient manufacturing, which require higher technology, and new products that replace metals and other materials with plastic.
They also said they want to take advantage of the large Chinaplas trade show, which rotates between Shanghai and Guangzhou and will next take place in Guangzhou in May 2013.
“It's an exploration [of plastics],” said Greg Wong, commercial consul and head of the Commercial Service Office in Guangzhou, in a mid-May interview in Guangzhou. “If we put out the word and go to the shows and offer our services and nobody answers the door, we'll move on. But it certainly feels right.”
Wong said the U.S. government has also increased the amount of money available generally to American firms to help pay for trips worldwide aimed at increasing exports.
That program, funded by the Small Business Administration, can often give a grant of several thousand dollars to a company toward the cost of the trip or other export expenses, Wong said.
The SBA program, called the State Trade and Export Promotion initiative, started in 2011 and is giving $90 million over three years to state governments, which they then distribute to companies.
“All of the states have gotten grant money from the federal government to send companies overseas on exploratory export missions,” Wong said. “Of the 50 states, 42 of them are planning on sending delegations to China in all industries, including plastics.”
Wong said U.S. government grant money available to companies to support export activities is increasing: “It's never been this easy or this clear or this much.”
Sophie Xiao, , a commercial specialist in the Guangzhou office and the other staff member working on the plastics initiative, said the office helped Chinese companies register for the NPE trade show in Florida in April, and also earlier this year, helped a Chinese buyer who was initially denied a U.S. visa to get that visa and make the trip to NPE.
Wong said the U.S. government has focused on cutting wait times for visas to travel to the United States. The time to an appointment with a U.S. visa officer in China one year ago was averaging two to six weeks, but now it's down to five days, he said.
“We are dedicating a lot of resources to making it easier and easier for Chinese to apply and to come to America,” he said.
Xiao said in her experience a connection with the U.S. government, even just knowing the staff, can help legitimize a U.S. firm to a Chinese buyer.
In one situation in the run-up to NPE, Xiao said she had been working with both the Chinese agent of one U.S. plastics firm and a Chinese company that agent had been trying to meet, without success.
The Chinese company told Xiao it was not at first sure if that agent was “truly a U.S. company,” Xiao said. But after the Commercial Service verified that the agent and the company were legitimate, it led to meetings in April at both NPE and at the Chinaplas show in Shanghai, she said.
“We tell them, ‘OK, this is a U.S. company' and they say, ‘Ok, we feel comfortable working with them,” Xiao said.
Wong said that that type of communication, while seemingly simple, can help to get past some of the communication issues that can get in the way, particularly when smaller firms are trying to go cross a cultural and business gap like that between the United States and China.
“There's a lot of concern and sometimes I would even say fear in America when they start to engage in China, and we can help them get over some of those hurdles,” he said.