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Oakland Mayor Jean Quan

Quan plans Asia trip to encourage Oakland’s trade with China

on February 17, 2011

Mayor Jean Quan plans to travel this year with the Oakland Port Authority on its annual trade mission to Asia, looking to expand the volume and variety of the city’s business with China.

The Port of Oakland currently ships out scrap plastic and paper waste, as well as produce, poultry and dairy from the Central Valley to China.

Buoyed by her meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a state dinner in Washington, DC, last month, Quan said she’d like to expand exports to include California wine and high-tech medical equipment, products that may lure more Chinese business interest in the city.

“China understands that they should invest back in the United States,” Quan said.

China’s business with the Port of Oakland comprised over a third of the port’s imports and exports in 2010 between the months of January and November. During this time, the value of all Chinese trade through the port was $36 billion. Along with paper and plastic, China also imported resin, aluminum, steel and other metals. With Oakland’s proximity to the Central Valley, the port’s greatest amount of exports to China came in the form of poultry and meats, as well as dried fruits and nuts.

More trade through the port means more tax revenue generated for the City of Oakland, according to Marilyn Sandifur, spokesperson for the Oakland Port Authority. “Because of the infrastructure that we build and the businesses that operate here,” Sandifur said, “it not only benefits Oakland and the region with jobs; it also generates tax revenue for Oakland and the state.”

Quan’s presence on the trade mission will add credibility to the effort, Sandifur said. Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce executive director Jennie Ong agreed. “She draws a lot of respect,” Ong said, adding her status as the first Chinese-American woman to lead a major American city is “history-making.”

The mayor’s approach to the trade mission may differ from that of former City Council member Henry Chang, who went to China in 2001 with other local politicians, the director of the Oakland Zoo and reporters to try to lease two pandas for the zoo in 2001.

Chang’s efforts, part of a strategy to warm the Chinese government up to trading with Oakland, didn’t succeed in getting pandas. For her part Quan said she’d love to get pandas, saying, “I think it would do great things for the zoo.” However, she said she doesn’t expect the creatures to boost trade.

To sell Oakland’s business potential when talking with Chinese business officials, Quan said she’ll compare Oakland to the fastest developing sector of Shanghai, one of China’s largest cities and most cosmopolitan centers of global trade.

The trade mission to China is slated for late spring or early summer, said Port Authority spokesperson Robert Bernardo. While Quan’s focus may be on exports, Bernardo said the Port Authority seeks mainly to maintain existing trade and get new businesses interested in Oakland, “and if those directly translate to more exports, that would be wonderful.”

Image: Oakland mayor Jean Quan (center) poses with revelers at the Lunar New Year festival in Oakland’s Chinatown. Quan wants to export more goods to China through the Port of Oakland, and will accompany the Port Authority on an upcoming trade mission to China.

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