A U.S. government trade-promotion office in China is focusing on the plastics industry in an attempt to boost U.S. exports to the country.
The effort is part of a government initiative to double U.S. exports worldwide.
The U.S. Commercial Service office in Guangzhou said it has identified plastics-related exports to China as a target, and is putting more resources and staff time toward helping U.S. firms in the industry.
Guangdong province, where Guangzhou is located, is one the largest provinces for plastic products manufacturing in China. U.S. officials there see opportunities to target Chinese manufacturing trends, such as a demand for more energy-efficient production, which requires higher technology; and new products that replace metals and other materials with plastic.
Those officials also said they want to take advantage of the huge Chinaplas trade show, which rotates between Shanghai and Guangzhou. The show — held in April in Shanghai — 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. “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,” he said in a mid-May interview in Guangzhou.
Wong said the U.S. government has also increased the amount of money generally available to U.S. firms to help pay for trips aimed at increasing exports worldwide. That program, funded by the Small Business Administration, can often grant a company several thousand dollars toward such costs, he 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. grant money available for supporting export activities is increasing: “It's never been this easy or this clear or this much.”
Terri Tyminski, a commercial officer in Guangzhou and one of two staffers working on the office's plastics initiative, said the office can provide services such as matchmaking with potential partners and helping with promotion in the Chinese market. It also organizes trade missions and trade show pavilions.
The matchmaking program, called Gold Key, costs $700, with government officers in China helping to arrange three or four meetings with potential agents, distributors, part- ners or clients, she said. One particular challenge for U.S. firms is finding agents in the country, and the Commercial Service can tap its networks, she said.
“We do pre-qualify people,” she said. “It's in our interest and the U.S. taxpayers' interest to have good meetings.”
Tyminski said the office is interested in all segments of the plastics industry, including materials, molds, equipment and plastic products, and sees particular opportunities in materials, including recycled resins, and equipment.
The office is also interested in the development of shale gas as a potential feedstock to make U.S. resins more competitive, she said.
The government can assist with product promotion efforts in China, including having meetings in specially designed spaces at U.S. government offices. The Guangzhou office subcontracts with a local Chinese credit agency to provide credit information to U.S. firms about potential Chinese partners or customers, Wong said.
The office helped Chinese firms register for NPE2012, held in Orlando, Fla., in April, and earlier this year helped a Chinese buyer who initially was denied a U.S. visa to obtain one to go to NPE, said Sophie Xiao, who also works on the office's plastics initiative.
Wong said the U.S. government can cut wait times for visas to travel to the United States. The time for arranging an appointment with a U.S. visa officer in China a year ago averaged two to six weeks, but now it's 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,” Wong said.
Xiao said a connection with the U.S. government, even just knowing the staff, can help legitimize a U.S. firm to a Chinese buyer. In the run-up to NPE2012, Xiao was working with both the Chinese agent of a U.S. plastics firm and a Chinese company that the agent had been trying to meet, without success. Xiao said the company wasn't sure the agent was “truly a U.S. company.” Once the Commercial Service verified that both agent and company were legitimate, it led to meetings at this year's NPE in Orlando and Chinaplas 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.
While that type of communication seems simple, it can help resolve certain issues that get in the way — particularly when smaller firms try to cross cultural and business gaps like those between the U.S. and China, according to Wong.
“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,” Wong said.