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Economic and trade office promotes merits of Zhanjiang in Germany

By Emma Gonzalez (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-14 08:05

Zhanjiang, a city in the southwest of Guangdong province, is an example of China's coastal cities that are becoming increasingly more important in the general economic development of the country.

Helped by the growing emphasis on international trade at such ports, Zhanjiang has been experiencing rapid economic growth thanks to the expansion of its industrial deepwater port.

As part of its plans to strengthen overseas investment and promote commercial opportunities with foreign countries, Zhanjiang opened an economic and trade office in Germany in June 2014.

The office, which was established during the visit of Mayor Wang Zhongbing to Germany in June 2014, only started formal operations in April of this year.

Located in the city of Karlsruhe, in southwest Germany, the office is close to the federal states of Bavaria, Hessen and North Rhine Westphalia, where most German heavy industry is located.

Tobias Urban is the main representative of the office and also acts as the chief representative for Zhanjiang in Europe.

Urban's previous experience working for the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Vietnam and at the economic development agency of the German city of Solingen has helped him develop a crucial understanding of trade relations between Asia and Europe.

The office only recently started operations, so has mainly focused thus far on analyzing market opportunities available between the two countries, creating a strategy for investment promotion and preparing marketing materials.

"Currently, the main task of the office is location marketing and investment and trade promotion for Zhanjiang in Germany," Urban said. "In addition, we are building up a network of business associations."

Looking ahead, the trade representative said, efforts would be concentrated on making Zhanjiang a priority destination for investment from German companies as well as helping companies from Zhanjiang gain market access to Germany.

The main problem Zhanjiang faces is that the city is still unknown to most companies in Germany, Urban said. Therefore, a crucial task for the office is to promote the city and new opportunities by supporting business delegations from and to Zhanjiang.

Urban said the decision to set up an office in Germany was determined by the fact the European country is a market leader in circular economy, energy efficiency and renewable resources, with many companies that are strong in those fields. It is also likely the type of collaboration between Zhanjiang and Germany will depend on the demands from projects in these fields.

"Zhanjiang offers German companies a prosperity market with high growth - above the average of China. Companies from Germany are able to benefit from those 'catch-up effects'," Urban said.

He said Zhanjiang's sound infrastructure, lower costs than tier-one cities and a forward-thinking government that takes both economic development and ecological environmental protection into account are crucial aspects to make it an ideal place for investments.

The city has also been benefiting from a change in the business preferences of European companies, Urban said. While in the past most foreign enterprises focused their investment in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and in the Pearl River Delta, smaller cities are now attracting greater interest thanks to lower costs and greater benefits.

"Foreign companies are more and more interested in second- and third-tier cities and the competition among cities in China regarding foreign direct investment is very intense. Our work is to find companies who fit perfectly in the economic framework of Zhanjiang," Urban said.

Zhanjiang can also serve as a hub for foreign companies not only for the Chinese market but also for the developing markets in Southeast Asia, he said.

The Road and Belt Initiative promoted by the Chinese government that envisions vast international economic cooperation in trade and transportation is expected to translate into significant improvements in the infrastructure of Zhanjiang and to further connect the city to the outside world.

"The Maritime Silk Road is a golden opportunity for the city to show its potential," Urban said. "Companies located in Zhanjiang will get access to markets to Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe much more easily, enhancing business opportunities and ultimately strengthening Zhanjiang's position as a key investment location."

Personally, Urban said, he is deeply impressed by the city's rapid economic development. For him, Zhanjiang has a special character that is a combination of the modern and traditional worlds.

The city is undergoing a rapid transformation from being an agriculture-based city to an important industrial hub in southern China. Despite the radical economic transition, Zhanjiang is determined to maintain sustainable development that will allow the city to maintain its blue skies and clean water, he said.

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