Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist
Washington wine to Hong Kong, gam bui
Hong Kong's economic expansion plans create an opportunity for one of Washington's finest exports: wine.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
The honorable Donald Tong passed through Seattle this week looking for a few good sommeliers.
Tong is the Hong Kong Commissioner for Economic & Trade Affairs, USA. His government is drawn to wine and gourmet food as sources of business opportunities and economic revival.
Government officials — as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China — have a slate of activities and investments planned to revive an economy hit hard by the global recession. Steady GDP growth slowed dramatically in 2008. For 2009-2010, in the restrained language of a budget report, "external and domestic demand will remain subdued."
Tong, his government's senior representative in this country, spoke to the Hong Kong Association of Washington and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. He oversees trade offices in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.
If Tong says Hong Kong is interested in wine, Washington state ought to be ordering shipping containers. The government has made a priority of being China's wine bar. Even if the climate were right, Hong Kong has no room for growing grapes. This is all about access to markets and shelf space.
Hong Kong recently lifted a 40-percent duty on wine. In the 10 months ending in December 2008, the value of imported wine reached $2.8 billion, an 82-percent increase over the same period in 2007.
Tong acknowledged Hong Kong lacks wine expertise in restaurants and there is insufficient wine storage available. But given the opportunities for wine trading and distribution and employment, the government plans to expand spending on promotion, education, investment, facilities, trade shows and consumer festivals.
Hong Kong celebrates an anniversary on July 1. A dozen years have passed since the British departed after 150 years. The territory and its 7 million people have a largely autonomous existence from mainland China, but they negotiate bilateral agreements. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement provides tariff-free access to the mainland in 40 service sectors. No doubt that helped attract 900 U.S. businesses to locate there.
Past recessions and downturns mugged the Hong Kong economy. In the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis, anxiety about the return to mainland China and a chicken-flu epidemic took a huge toll. Tong uses a word that aptly describes Hong Kong's educated, hardworking people: resilient.
Hong Kong has a to-do list that includes investments in excellence in specific expertise such as testing and accreditation, environmental science — DuPont is spending large on solar technology — and there is local commitment to green jobs, electric cars and using less energy.
The city's old airport is being converted into a cruise terminal, and a third phase of an industrial science park is under discussion. So is creation of a 100-acre cultural exposition.
Washington is ripe to compete for Chinese wine sales. The potential for lucrative trade is enormous and the jobs stay home. Washington vineyards and wine makers produce an award-winning, competitive product, as annual sales in Japan and South Korea attest. Washington has 608 wineries, 350 wine-grape growers and 33,000 acres in production. Total employment is 19,000.
Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, is mindful of the opportunities in Asia. Her office recently received a federal grant to study market opportunities in Taiwan. Pollard, reached on the road at a central Washington vineyard, was especially receptive to Hong Kong's tariff reduction.
If Hong Kong is eager to burnish its wine skills, Washington has eager tutors.
Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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