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Our Biotech Trade Mission in China: Developing Prosperous Partnerships

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Sánchez, officials at DiaCarta signing ceremony

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary for International Trade, International Trade Administration

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”

That’s a proverb I learned during my recent trip to China, where I led a delegation of 19 U.S. biotech companies on a trade mission. Today marked the end of our journey. But, I’m confident that the steps we took will help these firms generate new opportunities in the region.     

As I get ready to depart, I’m struck by the huge possibilities in the country. China’s biotech sector is growing roughly 25 percent a year. Its market is huge in terms of sales and clinical trial opportunities, as well as potential investment. And, China’s enormous consumer base and impressive economic growth further reinforce the importance of the market for U.S. firms.

This means potential growth for businesses here at home. Consider the case of DiaCarta LLC, a California-based company. 

During our first stop in Beijing, I was honored to participate in a ceremony celebrating the company’s $2 million dollar sales agreement to sell its cervical cancer testing products in China. DiaCarta’s officials have said that past exporting has allowed them to hire workers, and this new deal would allow them to add additional staff. 

The equation is simple: Strengthening trade partnerships leads to U.S. exports which positively impacts American jobs. That’s the message we took to Beijing, and then on to Hong Kong, the second stop of our trade mission.    

This was my second time in the city. My first visit occurred roughly 30 years ago, and the progress since then has been incredible. It’s easy to see why many consider Hong Kong “Asia’s World City.” 

Hong Kong’s development has been astounding, and it’s been a valuable partner to the United States. Last year, U.S. merchandise exports to Hong Kong totaled nearly $27 billion. 

Our delegation worked to build on this success by exploring new partnerships in the biotech sector; we held roughly 60 one-on-one meetings with prospective distributors, public and private buying agents and other potential business partners. 

In addition, earlier today, I brought representatives to a luncheon at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, where I was privileged to serve as the keynote speaker. I had three main messages to the audience: 

  1. We commend the Hong Kong government and business community for being a great example of the benefits of free and fair trade;
  2. We value Hong Kong as a partner; and
  3. Even though we’ve had great success together, we have the potential to do more, especially in promising sectors like biotechnology. 

I know we have the potential to do more because both sides are committed. Case in point: Last November, Assistant Secretary Suresh Kumar sat with Fred Lam, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), to sign the Pacific Bridge Initiative (PBI). 

Through the PBI, HKTDC became the first statutory body outside the U.S. to promote President Obama’s National Export Initiative on a bilateral basis.  

The PBI has been a win-win collaboration. It’s helped us exceed our NEI goals. And, it’s supported Hong Kong’s efforts to be the pre-eminent commercial platform for this dynamic part of the world. Consider that in 2011, the PBI helped triple the number of export transactions done by new-to-market U.S. firms.

It’s been a great success. Much of the credit for this progress belongs to Fred Lam. That’s why, during the AmCham luncheon, I presented him with the Peace Through Commerce Award, which honors those who significantly promote and develop U.S. exports. 

The award was discontinued for a few years, but it has a storied history. It dates back to the first Secretary of State—Thomas Jefferson—who commissioned the medal in 1790. Jefferson presented the award, then known as the Diplomatic Medal, as a gift to foreign diplomats who aided the Continental Congress during the American Revolution.

Today, the revolution is happening in the global economy; our commercial international partnerships are more important than ever. That’s why I re-launched the award this year. I wanted to recognize great partners like Fred, which is why we honored him. And, we will continue to build on this successful partnership in the years ahead. 

As I conclude our trade mission, I’m proud of all that was achieved. For example, a representative of the Ted Jacob Engineering Group said that, for the company, the trip opened “a whole world of connections. . . giving us access to a lot of advice, regional market data, insights and experiences in one setting. We have thus gained potential clients, local knowledge and, more important, a lot of new friends.”    

I’m grateful to all those who supported our work, especially ITA staff. And, with all of our partners, I look forward to taking the next step in the journey to bring new prosperity and opportunities to U.S. businesses.

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