World Trade Focus China

May 3, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — In a land with 800 million inhabitants, one would expect there would be numerous trade opportunities with a region even as comparatively small as West Michigan.

That’s what officials from China and West Michigan hope to solidify this week when the land from the Far East is featured at a variety of business and social functions.

In 1953 President Franklin Roosevelt officially proclaimed World Trade Week as a national observance by the U.S. government. It was proposed by presidential decree for the purpose of promoting awareness and support for international trade and the vital role it plays in the U.S. economy.

“It is a great event that brings diversity and awareness to the community,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Program. “It allows us a chance to highlight and introduce an important aspect of the economy and introduce the featured country as a potential trade partner.”

This year, China is the featured country for many reasons, most notably because of its recent entry into the World Trade Organization after many years of negotiation.

To celebrate, The Right Place Program, along with the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, National City Bank, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Seidman School of Business, will present programs, events and cultural activities that center around China and all it has to offer. The celebration on Monday, May 6, will begin with the World Trade Week Kickoff Luncheon with keynote speaker John Holden, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China relations.

His speech, “Doing Business in China,” will touch on aspects of his business experience in China with equipment and commodities ranging from imports, exports, joint ventures and technology transfer, to services, and his work there with wholly owned ventures. The luncheon will be held in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel from noon-1:30 p.m.

At a reception later that night from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, Mayor John Logie will present the key to the city to visiting Chinese dignitaries.

Tuesday, May 7, begins with several events focusing on trade, historical changes in China, opportunities in China and various other topics. A trade seminar on China begins at 8 a.m. at GVSU’s Eberhard Center, 2nd floor, 301 W. Fulton St. The keynote address will be “Market Entry: Preparation Is Key to Success In China,” by Thomas Lee Boam, Ph.D., senior commercial officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Later that evening two events will wrap up the day. The West Michigan World Trade Association and Fifth Third Bank will host a reception at The BOB. The reception will include the presentation of the West Michigan World Trade Association’s World Trader of the Year Award.

Following the reception, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will host the annual trivia quiz, WorldQuest 2002.

WorldQuest 2002 is an international trivia game on world affairs, trade and geography. Teams of up to six people from the media, corporations, colleges and other organizations are invited to compete.

Throughout the week Ensi Bao will be in town as a guest of BDO Seidman to speak with local officials on how to handle Securities and Exchange Commission matters and observe accounting procedures. He is the division director of the Chinese Securities Regulations Commission, which is a more expanded version of the U.S. commission.

A vital factor in trade agreements and relations between the U.S. and China is the importance of cultural understanding. Craig Meurlin, partner with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP of Grand Rapids and an expert on global trade and corporate law, will be the keynote speaker at the World Trade Week 2002 dinner from 5:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at the Gerald R. Ford Museum. The event is by invitation only.

Meurlin’s address will focus on the importance of cultural understanding to the business process. He’ll also explore business and trade matters, the prospects of doing business tomorrow in China, while reflecting on his extensive experience in responding to operational and governmental challenges in China.

“Business etiquette is crucial to foreign business relations and can often make or break a deal,” said Klohs. “Sometimes, before there is even a deal on the table you will have already ruined the transaction because of a gesture or phrase that is interpreted in a different way in a different country.”

Local companies sponsor or host most events scheduled throughout the week. The money charged for each event will go to cover costs of the week, said Nancy Brian, business development coordinator for The Right Place Program. Any money left over will go to pay for next year’s event.

“This is not about raising money,” Brian said. “It is really about raising awareness and educating businesses to become more involved in China and other international markets.”

And creating awareness is something that is taking time to work its way into the local market.

“Every year this week is vital to the business community. In order to be able to expand business and grow to an international capacity, area businesses need to be introduced to the possibilities out there, and this is a great venue for it,” Klohs said.

Klohs feels that the U.S. needs to be sensitive to the competition and also understand that there are certain customs and relations involved in business, beyond the business deal.

“We are a very large nation and we should keep up to date and current on international business practices just as other countries do for us,” she added. 

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