The ceremony was standard fare for the signing of a cooperative agreement in China. Officials seated before a large banner stamped and signed matching booklets, pledged partnership and finally, toasted to seal the deal.
But there was something matter-of-fact about this one, like neither top official involved felt the need to overstate the case for such an obvious partnership.
After outlining his city’s achievements – including becoming the busiest port in the world handling 23 percent of China’s trade volume – Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng pointed out to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal something both could appreciate: Coca-Cola Co.‘s investments in China.
On the day of their meeting, Mr. Han visited the Coca-Cola Innovation Center, a $90 million R&D facility in Shanghai where the Atlanta-based company dreams up new products suited to Chinese tastes. There, he learned the raw figures that motivate Coke’s decision to pour $4 billion into the country by 2014 even after spending $2 billion over the last three years.
Chinese people, on a per capita basis, drink four times less Coca-Cola than people in Mexico, which has a population less than one-tenth the size of China’s, Mr. Han said.
Mr. Han also praised Coke’s “very successful” pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, an event that brought more than 70 million people to the city, most of them Chinese. Mr. Deal’s predecessor, Sonny Perdue, attended the expo on a trip led by Coke officials last September. At the time, then-Gov. Perdue met with the chairman of the Shanghai International Ports Group, who reportedly drinks about 600 cans of Coke per year.
Though an earlier version of his itinerary included a stop at the innovation center, Mr. Deal instead toured a grocery store with the Coke official in charge of a popular brand. Meanwhile, First Lady Sandra Deal visited a Project Hope school, one of 100 impoverished rural schools the beverage giant has helped build over 18 years.
At the signing ceremony in Shanghai, Mr. Deal focused on port relationships. Savannah, he told the mayor, is the fourth largest port in the U.S., as well as the fastest growing in the country. The Shanghai ports and the Georgia Ports Authority have a partnership focused on sharing knowledge. Georgia’s group even has an office in Shanghai run by Charles You, a former Chinese ship captain who has been representing Georgia in the city since 2008.
Mr. Deal added that he envisioned even more collaboration between the two logistics powerhouses.
“We are hoping with the expansion of the Panama Canal by 2014, we will see even more trade from your city to our state through the Savannah port,” Mr. Deal said.
The Savannah port’s decade of growth has largely been based on greater traffic of container ships from China traversing the canal en route to the East Coast of the U.S.
His flight delayed in Qingdao, Mr. Deal skipped lunch to attend that meeting at a guest house frequented by government visitors in western Shanghai. He and the mayor made their comments, and then watched as Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey signed an investment-promotion agreement with his counterpart in Shanghai.
Although Shanghai is known worldwide as a city, in China it is a special municipality that is considered a province for purposes of the national government. Beijing,Tianjin and Chongqing are also provincial-level municipalities.