Georgia, China’s trust grows

For generations, Epcot Center visitors have marveled at the film, “Reflections on China.” Last month, I was honored to join Gov. Nathan Deal for the trade mission to China and now offer reflections on this land of opportunity for Georgia’s food and fiber industry.

In America, any growth in disposable income results in the purchase of a larger television, a nicer condo rental or an authentic pair of Tory Burch flats. The Chinese middle-class is focused on food. They expect the marketplace to provide more choices and higher quality for their children.

Chinese consumers trust U.S. brands. As disposable income rises in China, demand for bulk commodities and value-added foods produced by Georgians will soar.

For example, Georgia farmers lead the nation in pecan production. Recent efforts to acquaint the Chinese with our beloved tree nut have resulted in China purchasing 20 to 40 percent of our yearly production.

As with any new trading relationship, we have experienced quality disputes. We addressed these concerns with brokers and government officials during the mission and reinforced our inspection standards. I expect a robust future. Georgia producers are adding more than 20,000 acres of trees. Pecan tree nurseries across the country have order backlogs until 2016. This spells positive economic activity for Georgia’s economy.

In 2012, Georgia farmers produced more than 1.7 million tons of peanuts, a record. This past winter, Chinese brokers made purchases that reduced inventories and uplifted the 2013 market season. We were able to thank some brokers face-to-face for their business and assure them of our ability to meet future expectations.

The chicken paw (foot) is a Chinese favorite. Last year, Georgia poultry companies exported $25.1 million of them to China. I do not believe consumption in Georgia will ever be a threat to our ability to meet the demand of our Chinese friends. Chinese consumers will want more Georgia chickens from the ground up.

We tasted Australian beef during banquets in Shanghai, Qingdao and Jinan. I would relish the opportunity to join my fellow cattlemen to compete in this market. Hurdles exist between the U.S. and China on beef products. These hurdles should be removed. Until then, we will explore ideas to penetrate the market with InterContinental Hotels, headquartered in Georgia, and others.

Entry to any foreign food market is tricky. Food service and business convention menus featuring the “Georgia Grown” brand could be the key to developing demand for meat and other products.

Trade missions provide a mechanism for leaders of business, government and academia to build relationships. Any successful relationship demands trust. Private-sector trust between Georgia and China is growing. I remain committed to fostering the relationships with the Chinese consumer necessary to expand market opportunities for our farm and forestry-related businesses.

Gary Black is the Georgia agriculture commissioner.