“I am going to extend and deepen our presence in China… that will provide more direct support to companies on the ground,” Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith told InDaily today.
He said that while the detail would be revealed in the Budget, South Australia would build its trade representation in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province – the focus of the state’s trade efforts.
The Department of State Development has a representative in Shandong, and also utilises staff in Austrade offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Shandong, China’s third largest province with a population of 100 million, has been the focus of the Weatherill Government’s China strategy.
The Government’s most recent trade delegation to Shandong in April this year included more than 300 delegates.
Hamilton-Smith insists the strategy is bearing fruit, despite falls in exports in the mining, oil and gas sectors which he says are beyond the influence of state and federal governments.
He points to growth in vegetables, wine and meat, as well as potential in the international student market which is now under his strategic purview.
“What’s fallen is mining, oil and gas, which we can’t influence,” he said.
“That’s distorted the true picture. Fruit and vegetables, wine, and meat are up. We have to focus on what we can influence and not get too wound up about what we can’t. Our performance has actually been better than other states in overall terms.”
He says the strategy has been working, so the new version is a “fine tuning” of the Government’s approach, including providing a greater focus on small businesses who he says are key beneficiaries of the Shandong focus.
A delegation from Shandong will visit Adelaide in September.
In the past week, the Bank of China opened its first Adelaide branch, at 1 King William Street, in a move that Hamilton-Smith says shows the deepening of ties.
Opposition trade spokesman Tim Whetstone welcomed the commitment to a greater trade presence on the ground in China, but said South Australia needed to invest much more in export relationships across Asia.
“They are screaming out for our product, but at the moment they’re getting a taste of Victoria, Western Australia, to a lesser extent NSW, but not much from South Australia,” Whetstone told InDaily.
Whetstone said South Australia’s exports to China were down in value terms over the past 12 months.
“While we have this obsessive want to engage with China, we are not looking at the bigger picture,” he said.
“We have been putting most of our eggs in one basket – India and China – but there are bigger opportunities in South East Asia.”
Hamilton-Smith will be seeking to explore some of those in a trade delegation to the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia that leaves tonight.
More than 60 delegates from government, business, education and cultural sectors, will join the mission, including Governor Hieu Van Le in the Philippines and Vietnam. Premier Jay Weatherill will take part in the Vietnam leg.
Hamilton-Smith said the Philippines and Vietnam were two of the fastest-growing countries in the region, and he would be seeking out opportunities for commodities and services exports.
Whetstone, who recently visited Vietnam, said South Australia had neglected the market and local businesses were asking why they should support this state when SA had provided little support to them.
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