Austrade’s Chengdu office celebrates 20 years

Austrade

There are many important milestones in the long and productive trading relationship between Australia and China. One milestone occurred in 1921, when Australia’s first trade commissioner, Edward Selby Little, was posted to Shanghai.

On the 28th February that year, the Sydney Morning Herald said of Mr Little:

He knows China thoroughly and believes that, rightly handled, there is a great market for Australian goods there.’

Next year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this remarkable decision.

Charming Chengdu

This year marks a smaller but nonetheless significant milestone. It is 20 years since Austrade established an office in the southwest city of Chengdu.

The capital of Sichuan, Chengdu is home to China’s national symbol, the Panda. The city’s ancient teahouses are adorned with bamboo birdcages, and its world-famous cuisine is based on fiery chillies and a numbing Sichuan black pepper.

The city is also a sophisticated consumer market for Australia’s food and beverages, and other health and well-being products.

Prior to the pandemic, Chengdu’s residents spent a higher proportion of their income on consumption than people in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

Demand for luxury is high across the city, which is noted for its high liveability index. Chengdu’s retail sector has the third largest number of luxury brands after Beijing and Shanghai.

Investment partnerships strengthen ties

Investment from Sichuan in Australia has focused in sectors such as mining and agribusiness although Sichuan companies are also active in retail, pharmaceutical, health, tourism and wine sectors.

Australian companies are also contributing to growth in high-value sectors of Chengdu’s economy.

Australia’s iconic Cochlear has committed to the firm’s only overseas manufacturing plant about an hour’s drive from Chengdu’s original CBD.

ANZ chose Chengdu as the site of its China Global Services and Operations centre, which provides technology and analytical services to the Bank’s regional network.

Austrade’s Chengdu office has been instrumental in establishing greater commercial collaboration between southwest China and Australia.

But it hasn’t always been about commerce.

Confronting natural disaster

On 12 May 2008, Sichuan was struck by a massive earthquake, its epicentre around 80 kilometres northwest of Chengdu.

The Wenchuan earthquake measured 8.0 and tremors were reportedly felt throughout a vast region of the south-west and as far away as Beijing and Shanghai.

Austrade staff in Chengdu were instrumental in assisting Australia’s Embassy in Beijing to locate Australian citizens. Austrade employees also acted as a liaison point for communications and operations on the ground.

The region’s economic importance as well as the close ties with Australia were recognised in 2013 with the establishment of the Australian Consulate-General in Chengdu, Australia’s fourth diplomatic presence in China at the time.

A focal point for trade and investment links

Today, Australia’s interests in southwest China stretch across trade, investment, education and tourism.

Opportunities for greater collaboration exist in logistics and supply chains, agribusiness, food and beverages, the health and medical sector, vocational training and skills development, and new energy and infrastructure – to name a few.

While we take time to reflect on the achievements of our Chengdu office and other regional offices over the past 20 years, we also commence a month-long campaign of business and consumer events to build an even stronger commercial partnership between Australia and China.

The first of these, appropriately, kicks off this week in Chengdu. Entitled Reaching West – 2020, an Australian Food and Beverage Products Showcase, the event offers Australian businesses the opportunity to promote their products to China’s importers and consumers using a mix of offline and online platforms.

A vision for the future

Chengdu, which literally means ‘to become a capital’ has definitely achieved its vision. Its future planning will promote the city as a regional centre for major international events.

Chengdu is also striving to become a low-carbon city, a hub for eco-tourism, and a leader in advanced services and manufacturing.

Australian firms are well placed to continue to work with the city and its commercial entities to achieve that vision.

Strong collaborative commercial partnerships with Sichuan and the southwest region helps build prosperity for both our countries.

Austrade’s office in Chengdu will be there to assist.

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