INVERCARGILL’S civic and business leaders have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow Southland businesses greater access to a market of 5.8 million people in Invercargill’s sister city in China, Suqian.
The document was signed in Suqian on Friday after three hours of intense discussions between members of the visiting Invercargill civic and business delegation and 15 high-ranking representatives from the Suqian Municipal Peoples Government, businesses and tourism operators.
Deputy Mayor Rebecca Amundsen, Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes and Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson signed the agreement on behalf of Invercargill and Deputy Mayor Cao Xiuming signed on behalf of Suqian. Suqian is a city of 5.8 million in Jiangsu Province, which has a total population of 80 million people.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Cr Amundsen said the agreement represented significant progress in the business relationship between the two countries.
“Suqian Mayor Wang … has made it very clear that he values the sister-city relationship between Invercargill and Suqian and now wants to rapidly progress business and cultural opportunities between our two cities.
Specific exports the Suqian Municipal Peoples Government said it wanted from Invercargill and Southland are:
Beef and sheep meat to help Suqian feed its rapidly growing population;
Wool and high-quality wool fashion products.
Mayor Wang spoke of sending a delegation to Invercargill between February and April 2018, while Deputy Mayor Cao Xiuming also wanted to send a business delegation towards the end of this year and spoke of sending experts to spend time with Venture Southland to investigate joint venture opportunities between Southland and Chinese businesses.
The delegation also discussed tourism, highlighting what Invercargill and Southland have to offer and pledging to tailor tours to Southland that meet the specific needs of Chinese travellers.
Suqian already has tourists travelling to Queenstown and Suqian’s deputy director of tourism Wang Xiahong said that its close proximity to Invercargill meant that they could begin to include Invercargill and Southland in their schedules.
After the meeting, Mr Casson met with individual tourism operators to invite them to Invercargill to experience it for themselves, so that they could identify exactly what attractions they wanted to offer to their clients.
Friday’s talks also highlighted opportunities in the field of medicine, with the possibility raised about a staff exchange between Suqian First Hospital, which has state-of-the-art medical and pharmaceutical facilities, and Southland Hospital. Cr Lesley Soper, a former member of the Southern District Health Board, and Cr Graham Lewis, an experienced pharmacist, would follow up on this upon their return to Invercargill.
Educational opportunities for students from Suqian to study at the Southern Institute of Technology were discussed. The idea of friendly schools was also raised to encourage communication between schools in Invercargill and Suqian.
The Chinese expressed a desire to learn about sustainable farming practices and agri-technology used in New Zealand, as they were keen to protect their environment and produce high quality, healthy food for domestic consumption.
Cr Amundsen said Suqian was also keen to pursue sporting links, particularly after the success of Kaleni Taetuli, who was invited to represent Invercargill in Suqian for a year coaching schoolgirl rugby.
“Kaleni was described by Ms Wang Yan, deputy director of Suqian Sports Bureau, as professional and dedicated and having lifted the skills and performance of players in just his first 45 days in the city. This has been seen by Suqian as a good beginning and they want to further co-operate on rugby and sport.”
“Suqian would like us to help publicise the race in Southland – events in the Eco Quadrathlon have been won three times by New Zealand teams. Given our province’s sporting prowess, it would be great to see an Invercargill team enter the race, too,” she said.
Cr Amundsen said the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and accompanying discussions had yielded opportunities on multiple fronts that would now be actively pursued in coming weeks and months.
The Invercargill City Council delegation to Suqian comprised: Crs Rebecca Amundsen, Alex Crackett, Lesley Soper, Graham Lewis, chief executive Richard King, Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes, Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson and ICC communications manager Eirwen Harris (staff exchange).