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Ventura honored at Great Hall of the People
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
June 10, 2002


Gov. Jesse Ventura was honored at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, last night. The event, which was held early Monday morning Minnesota time, was part of the governor's week-long business development mission in China. The trade delegation's day also included a country-briefing by U.S. embassy staff and a networking event for Minnesota's agriculture industry.

Gov. Ventura and Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson arrive at an agriculture networking lunch in Beijing.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

Gov. Ventura's trade mission is sponsored by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, which invited the entire delegation to a banquet at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

Before tucking into beef curry, stewed chicken with coconut, and cuttlefish egg soup, council chairman Yu Xiaosong personally thanked Ventura for his unwavering support of free trade.

"Since assuming office, Gov. Ventura has attached great importance to the development of relations with China and has been a strong proponent of permanent normal trade relations with China," he said.

Ventura, who lobbied Congress to clear the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization, responded in kind, dedicating June, 2002, to the Chinese trade council.

Despite the warm wishes, U.S. companies recognize doing business in China is not always so straightforward. Earlier in the day, the delegation attended a briefing from U.S. embassy staff. One of the toughest challenges ahead, according to embassy personnel, is ensuring China's compliance with WTO regulations on free and fair trade.

Ventura says that shouldn't scare off Minnesota businesses. "They're new to the WTO," he said. "Anytime something new happens at a level the size of China, there are going to be challenges, there's going to be pitfalls, and there's going to be great achievement. And, you know, you've just got to roll with the punches, pretty much."

Ron Jacobsen says admitting China to the WTO will hasten the country's movement towards fair, stable business relationships. Jacobsen is representing the Minnesota Soybean Growers' Association on the China mission.

"Stand them on the carpet... and make them play by the rules. In the past, China would make deals and then they would fall through halfway down. They'll have to follow all the way through instead of doing their own thing," Jacobsen said.

"If you're a small company in, say, a suburb of Minneapolis or Blaine or Alexandria, they don't even know where that company is."

- Brian Chang, Alliance Capital

The Chinese economy is doubling in size roughly once every seven years, and Jacobsen says that potential creates a strong allure.

Brian Chang agrees. Chang, who grew up in China but has lived in Minnesota for 18 years, is a vice president for the asset management company Alliance Capital. Chang says the governor's presence in the trade mission will help open doors - particularly for firms that don't have the same name recognition as Alliance.

"The governor - or governship, if I may stress that - will give legitimacy to some of the business people, especially for small- and mid-sized companies, because they're not that big. If you're a small company in, say, a suburb of Minneapolis or Blaine or Alexandria, they don't even know where that company is," according to Chang.

Over lunch, the delegation was given an opportunity to develop contacts at an agricultural networking event. Surrounded by Chinese artisans, acrobats, and piles of food, delegation members shook hands, swapped business cards, and talked shop with their Chinese counterparts.

Gov. Ventura talks to reporters on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Tiananman Square in Beijing.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

But developing a lasting relationship can be slow-going. Meng Zhou, the general manager for the Chinese supermarket chain Park 'n' Shop, says his stores cater mostly to middle- and upper-income shoppers; those with a taste for Western products. But he says deciding what to carry - or not carry - in his stores takes more than a networking luncheon.

"To just get acquainted, that might be OK. But if you talk about some serious business, I think it's not just one time or two times - a few conversations. You need a lot of effort," Zhou said.

The trade mission picks up again Tuesday (Minnesota time) with a tour of Austin-based Hormel's pork processing plant just outside of Beijing. Ventura and delegation members will then head to a lunch sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce.