June 17, 2008

Idaho Joins Other Western States to Celebrate China Center

By Joshua Palmer, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho

Jun. 17--Agriculture officials from Idaho and 10 western states are visiting China this week to dedicate a center they hope will sell more high-value goods such as steak and wine to an expanding Chinese middle class.

Laura Johnson, section manager for marketing with Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said the new center will help state officials identify new opportunities for Idaho companies.

Several companies, such as the Twin Falls-based Independent Meat Company, have benefited by establishing trade connections with buyers in China.

Officials in other western states say the center will house other services, as well.

Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Agriculture Department, said the 20-acre center in the coastal city Zhuhai will house Chinese companies dealing in perishable food, testing laboratories, and display space and warehouse capacity for American goods.

She says the center also can test Chinese exports.

Johnson said Amanda Albers, trade specialist with Idaho State Department of Agriculture, will travel to China with other marketing officials from Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii -- as well as delegates from Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

The center, which is yet to be named, is expected to be in operation later this year.

China is currently the fourth largest market for Idaho exports -- preceded by Canada, Mexico and Japan.

However, Idaho officials say that could change as a rising middle-class in China demands more value-added goods from Idaho such as grain-fed beef, pork and specialty wines.

"Certainly China is very important to Idaho businesses," Johnson said. "That's why we want to be a part of the center, so we can learn more about what consumers in China are looking for, as well as more about potential importers."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, private companies will pay for the laboratory through fees for the service. Other operations will be financed through federal grants handled by the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association of Vancouver, Wash., or by private companies.

The association is providing money and support for the trade mission.

The most challenging barrier that stands in the way of export growth, say officials from other state departments of agriculture, are strict permit requirements by Chinese officials.

"We want to find a way to ship products seamlessly from the U.S. to China, working through all the various import permits, certification and testing requirements of the Chinese government, as well as meeting the commercial needs of our exporters in China," Dalton Hobbs, Coba's assistant, said in the department's press release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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