Businessman says U.S. misses out in China; American companies fail to deal in huge market with major sales opportunities, Colonie conference told
COLONIE -- When Brian Reh attended his first international trade show in China 10 years ago, his company was just one of two from the United States of the 1,600 companies there.

This year, when he went back, the trade show had tripled in size, but now his company, Gorbel Inc. of suburban Rochester, was the lone U.S. firm there.

"I couldn't believe it," he told a crowd of business leaders and government officials Tuesday morning in Colonie. "We just don't understand as a nation what the opportunity is.

"We need to take the blinders off," he added.

Reh spoke at the U.S.-China Trade & Business Development Conference at the Holiday Inn Turf on Wolf Road. The event, organized by the New York State Small Business Development Center, the Capital Region World Trade Center and others, included Chinese business and government officials. About 250 American businesspeople registered for the two-day event, which ends today.

While U.S. officials worry about this nation's growing trade deficit with China and threaten to levy tariffs to protect domestic industry, people such as Reh believe U.S. companies can be doing much more to sell products in China.

Many of the customers for his overhead and jib crane manufacturer -- including General Electric Co., Danaher and John Deere -- "wanted us there" in China, Reh said. So the company went. The move represents an expansion for Gorbel, which continues to operate its domestic factories in upstate New York and in Alabama.

Meanwhile, Wang Youshan, chairman and chief executive officer of Nanjing Joymain Sciences & Technology Group Corp., invited American health care companies to partner with his firm in China, and offered to share its distribution network. "Opportunities in China are real opportunities," Wang said.

But financing can be tricky. Xinyue Jasmine Geffner, regional head for the China International Business Development Team at HSBC Bank USA, described some of the ways American companies can arrange loans and currency transfers on their Chinese operations.

James L. King, state director of the New York State Small Business Development Center, said China's entrance into the World Trade Organization has reduced the risk of doing business there. "You have certain appeals and benchmarks you can count on," he said.

Exports from New York state to China have grown, said Gerald Shaye, international trade specialist with Empire State Development Corp. Last year, state exports totaled $2.1 billion, compared to $1.4 billion two years earlier.

But those are dwarfed by the $246.6 billion in imports to the state from China last year, although Shaye cautioned that those figures include imports destined for other states that entered through New York City's ports.

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