By GARY TRUITT
Indiana hosted a delegation from China on Wednesday as part of an important trading relationship that benefits Hoosier agriculture. Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, joined by Madam Qiao Chuanxim, chairwoman of Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference, commemorated the 25th anniversary of Indiana’s sister state relationship with Zhejiang Province. The event, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reciprocates a celebration held this past June in Hangzhou, China. Governor Robert Orr began the sister-state relationship with Zhejiang Province in 1987. “Governor Orr had incredible foresight to recognize the potential for growth Indiana stood to gain, and the Governor and I are proud to continue his legacy,” said Skillman. “This celebration serves as a small token of our appreciation to the people of Zhejiang for their investment in our state and our people.”
Agriculture has been a key element of relationship, according to State Agriculture Director Joe Kelsay, “China represents huge opportunities for agriculture.” He told HAT China is not only a good customer for farm commodities, but Indiana branded products are in demand in China, “Indiana hardwoods, for example, are in demand as a growing middle class in China want more furniture. Indiana hardwoods are at the table literally and figuratively when it comes to satisfying this demand.” The Lt. Governor presented the delegation with several Indiana cherry plaques made by Cole Hardwoods in Cass County.
During a June 11-17 trade mission, Lt. Governor Skillman led a delegation of 37 Hoosier business, education and civic leaders to Zhejiang Province. That trip produced many results including the signing of three agreements with Chinese businesses to grow their companies in Indiana. Logansport and White County formed a new sister city relationship, which brings the total of Indiana-China municipal partnerships to 22. Also, an educational partnership was created between IU Health and Zhejiang Hospitals.
In an effort to move 25 years of partnerships forward, the Lt. Governor joined Chinese officials to create the Indiana-Zhejiang Exchange Council. By definition, the council will “identify, develop, cultivate and maintain long-term and mutually beneficial trade investment, culture and educational relationships between governments, businesses and people of China and Indiana.” The Indiana equivalent is called the Indiana-China Council.
The Sagamore Institute has been selected by Lt. Governor Skillman to administer the Indiana-China Council, and today’s events comprise the group’s first official activity. It marks a new beginning in the longtime partnership that Governor Orr established. Governor Daniels’ 2009 trade mission to China was the first in over a decade by an Indiana governor and was followed by three more trips by the administration.
“We are honored to answer Lt. Governor Skillman’s charge to house the Indiana-China Council,” said Jay Hein, President of Sagamore Institute. “There is no better opportunity to inaugurate the group’s activities than this milestone celebration with our partners from Zhejiang.”
Indiana exported over $32 billion in 2011 accounting for 11 percent of the State’s GDP. As Indiana’s second largest trading partner in Asia, China accounted for nearly four percent of those export sales. China consumes more grain, meat, coal, and steel than any other country in the world — three-times more than the United States. Indiana exports to China have grown by 554 percent from 2007 thru 2011 to serve those market needs.
In addition to exploring new trade opportunities with Indiana agricultural and other business interests, Madam Qiao is keenly interested in Indiana’s government system. In addition to meeting with the Lt. Governor, she will meet with members of the General Assembly, members of the Indiana Supreme Court, and members of the Indiana Court of Appeals.