Politics & Government

Head of California trade and investment office in China sees endless possibilities

For Diane Long, the possibilities are staggering in matching up California’s trade and investment power with that of China.

Long recently was hired as executive director of the new California-China Office of Trade and Investment. From Shanghai, Long and an expected staff of four to six will aim to attract a growing share of China’s massive foreign investment pool and bolster California-China trade.

Long notes that her office is part of a “team effort” that includes the Bay Area Council and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Long is taking over the state’s first foreign trade office in a decade.

The economic stakes are enormous: China is the world’s second-largest economy, and California is rated as the world’s ninth-largest economic entity based on gross domestic product.

Long stopped by The Sacramento Bee this week to talk about her mission.

California has not had an office presence in China since 2003, so how did this new office evolve from that?

The re-creation of the office is because many people from the Governor’s Office and Bay Area Council are very active in China, and they realize the importance of international trade for growing the economy in California.

What does California have that it can offer China?

The beauty of California is that it’s a superstate that has every product, with every service, and it is packaged in such a way that the Chinese would be very interested in buying those products and seeking those products, as well as investing in the state. The state has assets that are unparalleled, and that makes it fun to think of being able to represent that in China.

Isn’t China already a major purchaser of some California food products, almonds for instance?

Yes, the nature of the way the Chinese eat, they love dried nuts and dried fruits. So those are natural buy-in products – almonds, pistachios, walnuts are very popular and growing markets.

What does China have that we in California might be interested in?

I think the biggest item they have is a market. They have a billion people, this group of people who have moved up the economic chain in a very short amount of time. Per capita (income) is $6,000 now. It started at $100 or $150 before economic development started. They’re beginning to travel. So to attract them to come to California as part of their travel plans to the United States is a very big attraction. Trade can go both ways.

China is on track to become California’s No. 2 trading partner, trailing only Mexico, by the end of this year. But I have a sense that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Is that a fair evaluation?

Yes. Having lived in China 28 years, I feel that I have an interesting perspective, and also being a native Californian, to understand the dynamic of what we have to offer and where they’ve come from and where they’re going. And you’re absolutely correct. If you think in terms of economic development, it’s only been 30 years that they’ve gone from below poverty to middle class. And now at the middle-class stage, they’re interested and now able to afford and aspire to the types of products and lifestyle that we can offer. So in that regard, there’s an amazing opportunity and the perfect timing to have a trade office now to connect them with us.

Given your years of living in China, do you think the Chinese have a certain perception of California in particular, separate from the rest of the United States?

It depends on where (people) are, meaning if they’re in the coastal areas and they’re a little bit ahead on the economic curve, or if they’re in the inland. That is one of the reasons to have the trade office, to be able to get out there and create that platform that promotes the brand of California and make sure that we own it.

Of course, there are stereotypes. Hollywood leads in the role, and Hollywood movies are a very good export, too. But at the California trade office, our job is to create that image that people can understand and have a true appreciation of who we are.

You’re talking about an office of four to six people, and China is such a massive and diverse nation. So, how do you start?

Luckily, in today’s world, we have instant technology, so we definitely will be leveraging that. And the Chinese are massive users of online social media, so whatever method we have to share, we’ll definitely make use of all of that. But the main point is to make sure everyone knows we’re there, because (an office) hasn’t been around ... It’s fun. There’s more than 24 hours in a day when you’re passionate about what you do.

And the Chinese appreciate the government-to-government linkages as a starting point. It means it has been approved, and now they can get down to business and really make something happen. ... We have a team. It’s going to be a team effort. ... I think this is an amazing opportunity to leverage all of these efforts.