Saturday, January 28, 2006
What purpose could there be for a trade mission to China, led by Ohio's lieutenant governor and a team from Ohio's Department of Development? After all, isn't China that monolithic threat to America's (and Ohio's) once mighty industrial base? With its currency manipulation, its low cost labor, its lack of environmental standards and its state control of the economy, isn't trade with China a "one way" proposition -- with China on the winning side of the equation? That explains the multi-billion dollar trade deficit that the United States has with China, right?
These were the questions that I posed to myself before accepting an invitation to join Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson on his recent trade mission to China. Though I continue to have serious reservations about U.S. trade policy with China, increasingly I am coming to the realization that the era of global trade is upon us whether we want it or not. And, there is no reversing it. America's consumer driven economy will settle for nothing less than the "best buy, always" as Wal-Mart proclaims so prominently at the entrance of its super stores.
So, if Ohio's manufacturing base is to survive and excel in today's world, it's going to have to confront the challenges of global trade head on. It's going to have to develop products and marketing strategies for a global market. And it's going to have to learn how to navigate in foreign markets, to interact with foreign trading partners and foreign governmental authorities alike. This is especially the case in China, as Bruce Johnson recognizes all too well.
Indeed, this is what led the him to sponsor an eight-day trade mission -- to Beijing, to Wuhan and to Shanghai -- with some 20 participants, representing small and large Ohio manufacturers, high tech businesses and agribusiness associations. We met with senior Chinese governmental officials, with Chinese trade associations, and with Ohio based corporate officials doing business in China. Mission participants were given extraordinary insights into how commerce in China works and how it can work to the advantage of American manufacturers.
Some of those on the mission trip had business contacts of their own in China while others were there merely to investigate the prospects for developing new business opportunities. I had a dual purpose for joining the trade mission in that I was there to meet with existing customers and to work through some matters involving China's product standards administration and its Customs Office.
Our company, Summitville Tiles, had been supplying ceramic tile to McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants throughout China for many years. Summitville's business in China, however, had been in jeopardy because of recent changes in product standards imposed by the Chinese government. Through the auspices of the lieutenant governor, I was afforded the opportunity to satisfactorily resolve this matter with senior officials of the Chinese government in charge of product standards and customs administration.
Make no mistake about it: trade with China is neither easy nor without its frustrations. Yet if nothing else, this trade mission to China reaffirmed the notion that trade with China can be possible and profitable for U.S. companies. Ohio manufacturers that choose to ignore the prospects of trade with China -- of selling product within the mainland of China to its burgeoning one billion new consumers -- are missing out on a huge opportunity. It can be done. It is being done. My company is testament to that.
X David W. Johnson is president and CEO of Summitville Tiles Inc. in Columbiana County and chairman of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association. He is a former chairman of the Republican Party in Columbiana County.