By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- State food and agriculture secretary Karen Ross will lead a trade delegation to China and Vietnam in September, her office announced July 18.
Ross and state business leaders will visit Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City with a goal of providing export business opportunities to the Golden State's farmers, ranchers and food processors, the California Department of Food and Agriculture explained.
The state expects representatives from about 15 companies to attend, CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said. Business owners participating in the trade mission will have individual meetings with foreign importers and briefings by U.S. agricultural officials, and they'll visit wholesale and retail markets to learn about in-market distribution and sales formats, according to a department news release.
"Agricultural exports continue to experience significant success with year-over-year growth," Lyle said. "We're seeing growth in Asian markets and we know there are tremendous opportunities in Asian markets for years to come. As we look at future demands, we know there's quite an emerging middle class in Asia ... We want to be able to forge a relationship with consumers there and increase demand for California products."
Ross' trip comes after Gov. Jerry Brown went to China in April and opened the California-China Trade and Investment Office in Shanghai, which provides in-market assistance to California companies and furthers foreign investment in California. During this visit, the office will seek to connect California businesses with Chinese counterparts, according to the CDFA.
The trip is paid for with a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to the Centers for International Trade Development in Fresno, a community college-based economic and work force development program. The SBA has given the centers about $6.1 million for various programs in the past year, said Jeff Williamson, the program's statewide director.
Williamson said he expects the trip to cost about $69,000, with some participants paying their own travel costs.
"It's very important for us moving forward that we get companies engaged in China," he said, "to get them to understand the market, get them to meet with potential buyers and be ready to prepare their products so that they're suitable for the market."
China is California's third-largest export destination for agricultural products with more than $1.7 billion in exports, the agency reports.
Vietnam is the 12th largest market for the Golden State's agricultural products. Last year's exports were valued at more than $196 million, a 43 percent increase from the previous year.
According to state statistics, California farmers ship about 25 percent of their production out of the country, generating nearly 115,000 jobs and $21.6 billion in economic activity. Over the last 10 years, California has more than doubled the value of its agricultural exports, the CDFA reports.
California joins other Western states in trying to develop Pacific Rim markets. Last fall, Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba joined Gov. John Kitzhaber on a trade mission to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai to expand markets for Oregon potatoes and look for new markets for Oregon dairy products.
Companies interested in participating in the California trade mission are urged to contact the Fresno Center for International Trade Development at www.fresnocitd.org or (559) 324-6401.
California Department of Food and Agriculture: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov
California Centers for International Trade Development: https://sites.google.com/site/californiacitdnetwork/home