Almost $1.7 billion worth of trade could be heading Richmond’s way, after a successful trip by local businesses to an international food expo in Hong Kong.
The Canada Pavilion — which mostly consisted of Richmond businesses at the first Belt & Road International Food Expo — was organized by the Richmond-based North America Investment Association (NAIA).
The NAIA, according to its president Amy Huang, has brought home around $1.7 billion ($9 billion Chinese RMB) worth of memorandum of understandings (MOUs) from Hong Kong.
Huang announced the news at a press conference last month, attended by Richmond MLAs Jas Johal and Teresa Wat and the B.C. Minister of State for Trade George Chow.
“We see it as a very successful first step. We will continue to follow up on the MOUs to turn them into contracts and benefit local businesses,” Huang told the Richmond News.
“We also hope that our efforts will encourage the government to value more Chinese markets and support us small businesses, who can make a big difference.”
The food expo, which took place in Hong Kong from June 27 to 29, allowed more than 300 companies from about 35 countries to showcase their food and agricultural products to purchasing agents from around the world.
Thirteen companies from Canada participated in the event, including at least seven from Richmond, such as Jingyin North America Enterprise Ltd., Coast Mountain E-commerce Corp. and Huijing Foods.
Companies at the expo displayed local agriproducts, which included icewine, blueberry wine, dry blueberries and raspberries, maple syrup, maple candies, linseed oil and salmon XO sauce, said Huang.
“Our exhibits are in a very good location, right next to the main entrance, with all our products on display. So many people have come to us and left their contact information for further discussions,” she said.
During the expo, NAIA signed three MOUs with the Chinese state-owned company Heilongjiang Great Northern Wilderness Agribusiness Group Corporation and two municipalities in Nanjing and Chongqing, which are both located in central China.
The MOUs stated that NAIA will work with the three parties to foster food businesses, trade and investment worth a total of $1.7 billion.
After the expo, Huang also signed a MOU on healthy food trade with the city of Guangzhou in southern China, worth $5 million.
“All the contracts we receive from the MOUs will be given first to companies that participated in this expo, and then to other companies from NAIA. If we don’t have those products, we will work with companies outside of our association,” noted Huang.
Minister Chow said at the press conference he is happy to see what the organization has achieved during the trip.
“It is excellent for the organization to be helping us in terms of promoting agricultural and seafood products in Hong Kong,” said Chow.
“We also have our own trade representatives in Hong Kong. We see big potential going forward in the Greater Bay area which has a 66 million population, similar in size to South Korea.”
NAIA has asked the province for partial sponsorship prior to the trip, but Chow said the government has "their own program as well and need to manage budgets”.
Wat, who visited the expo and joined several panels as a former minister, said it’s a “historical opportunity” to showcase Canadian agriproducts to so many countries.
“We believe in diversifying our export market, instead of just depending on the U.S. alone, even though the U.S. is a huge market, and we have the same culture, speak the same language and there is no distance,” said Wat.
Aware of questions over Richmond and Canada openly courting trade with China – which is often criticized for its record on human rights – Wat said she believes it’s important to “have engagement with countries who don’t have the same kind of standards.
“I agree that we should maintain our core values. We want the world to respect human rights. That’s why we have to walk a fine line,” she said.
“But if you just criticize them every day, and they decide not to continue the dialogue, then we can’t even influence them.”