Trade opportunities, Central Vic in China.

Building on existing relationships in Jiangsu Provence Haimen, to forge new ties with business and industry.


Leah Sertori

Chief Executive Officer


Between February 16-25, 2017 Be.Bendigo set out on a trade delegation to China. Alongside Greater Bendigo, Echuca Moama and Shepparton the Central Victorian regions were directly represented by senior leaders from local government, business, industry, financial services, education, training and community.

Visiting Haimen, Nanjing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the purpose of the delegation was to build on an existing relationship with Greater Bendigo’s Sister City Haimen, in Jiangsu Provence Рto forge new ties with business and industry.

Specifically, the delegation sought to advance trade links in agribusiness, education, training and tourism. Furthermore, we sought to learn about Smart City policy and implementation in China. To develop partnerships to exchange best practice features of Smart Connected Cities in the Asian Region.

Together we had experience in import & export, supply chain development, agribusiness, tourism, education, cultural experiences and developed language skills. The delegation was facilitated by Best Exchange Group, while co-owner NingNing Zhang provided translation services and cultural understanding for our team.

Some key insights about doing business in China could be categorised in three themes; culture and relationships, understanding our market and business systems and strategy for trade. Our group developed a renewed appreciation for the importance of establishing a friendly relationship with the organisation, and often government and in particular the region in which you wish to do business.

In Haimen, conversation flowed easily and openly, due to the strength of established relationships between civic and educational leaders in Bendigo and Haimen. Where established relationships exist, opportunities for trade are richer and business transactions smoother. Chinese people place a high value on getting to know each other and foreign stakeholders before exploring any kind of business. The formation of friendships are more formal and conducted over dinners with long held customs.

One such custom allows guests at dinner to establish the seniority and accomplishment of hosts and to show respect accordingly. Guests are seated at the table in order of seniority, with the Mayor and most senior Chinese host at the head. Other guests are then seated to the left and right of the most senior guests. When drinking a toast, guests turn to the person next to them and by touching their glass above or below the rim of their neighbours glass, they acknowledge their neighbours accomplishment. For example, when toasting with the principal of the school in Haimen I would hold my glass below his to show respect.

Our hosts appreciated any effort on our part to speak Chinese. Though poorly (expect for NingNing) we all made an effort to greet our hosts and show our thanks in the foreign language. In reflection, having thousands of students studying Chinese in Bendigo schools – now at Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Bendigo South East and a number of primary schools – is such an asset for our region. Those young people will become incredibly valuable resources for Central Victorian businesses and our community. Our schools leading the charge are to be absolutely congratulated for their contribution to relationships in our sister city and to developing language and culture skills for our region, enabling more direct communication in future years.

Our delegation developed a new appreciation of the Chinese market for Central Victorian produce, goods and services. Chinese consumers see Australian product as clean, green and trusted and will purchase diary, meat, fruit and vegetables at prices we found quite astonishing. Some examples included Jonesey’s fresh milk, retailing for $11AUS in Shanghai and Australian scotch fillet steaks, $600AUS a kilo. Austrade are leading some great work to facilitate new products, such as stone fruit being added to the list of Australian fresh products allowed into China. The stone fruit agreement is expected to be formalised by May 2017 and will offer great opportunities for producers in Shepparton.

Our delegation could see tremendous value in Greater Bendigo, Shepparton and Echuca Moama, formalising a cooperative approach to developing trade opportunities in China.

A cooperative approach could focus on three channels for trade, and one channel for learning and cooperation. The trade channels may include:

  • Agribusiness (food and fibre)
  • Education and Training
  • Tourism

Opportunities for Bendigo’s professional services to support primary producers growth and diversification in communities to the north are significant. Based on our experience in China that demand is likely to grow in the coming decade.

Representing our Region in China was a great privilege. I look forward to sharing all of the findings from the delegation in our formal report, to be released in March.

We were received with great warmth and regard for the strength of the friendship established by civic and education leaders that travelled to Haimen before us. Also evident through the agri-business ties forged by Central Victorian Agribusiness, Austrade and the Victorian Government.