Mission finds pathway to China and Hong Kong

South Florida Business Journal - December 29, 2006
by Julia Neyman

Last month's business trade mission to Hong Kong's SME World Expo fair was a great success, according to several South Florida trade officials and business leaders.

The global city's affinity for the English language and familiarity with Western business practices helped local delegates who attended its massive trade show from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 strike deals and find prospective partners from both Hong Kong and mainland China.

"When you deal with Hong Kong it's like dealing with any country in the world that is developed and prepared to do international business," said Lita Haeger, president of the Association of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida, which led the mission. "By being introduced by them to China, we believe that we are in the right hands."

Haeger said the 46 delegates, who stayed in top hotels and were "treated like VIPs," took advantage of several networking opportunities and symposiums at the annual world expo. Seminars on doing business with Latin America were especially popular, since half of the South Florida delegates were from Latin American countries, Haeger said.

"They could immediately meet the people who wanted to do business in Latin America," Haeger said. "They took the opportunity right on the spot. We didn't even think about it, but it happened that they did two things at once."

One such delegate was Luis Bonilla, president of Interlink18, a plastic and chemical trading company that has operations in Peru, Venezuela and Miami. Bonilla said he made contacts with Chinese companies that will potentially supply plastic resin for his manufacturing in Peru.

"I had made some contacts (in Asia) before but it truly has to be Hong Kong, because you can speak English with everyone," said Bonilla, noting that when he ventured into Beijing after the expo he had a hard time communicating with the mainland population.

Bonilla said while he didn't strike any concrete deals, he accomplished his goal of establishing communication with prospective Chinese partners.

"I made my contacts. I know who the people are now, and we start from there," he said.
Digital Media Network CEO Bernhard Schutte set the record by meeting with 25 companies during the three-day symposium. Schutte extended his visit to travel to Thailand and Malaysia, where he spoke to more than 160 manufacturers interested in using South Florida as a hub. Schutte was not the only delegate who took advantage of business contacts outside the expo. Miami attorney Robert Rigal used his time to solidify relationships with existing clients from Hong Kong and China, and gave a lecture on business and social relationships between mainland China and Latin America.

Rigal, who also attended last year's SME World Expo, said while much of his work took place outside the fair facilities, the expo gave his law firm, Diaz Reus Rolff & Traug LLP, enough legitimacy to prospect foreign companies and make new clients.

"The trade mission was ancillary to much of the work we did there," he said. "However, the mission gave us a profile and a marketing platform that I would have not been able to have but for the mission."
Haeger said she plans to lead another Hong Kong trade mission next year, and hopes to institutionalize the SME World Expo as an annual opportunity for South Florida businesses.

"We cannot find a better partner than Hong Kong to introduce us to China," she said. "And the whole world is looking for opportunities to get into China."

E-mail international business writer Julia Neyman at jneyman@bizjournals.com