South Dakota wants to establish a sister-state in China and it looks like Inner Mongolia might be the right match.
Speaking by phone from a trade mission stop in Shanghai on May 14, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the trade mission group, including representatives of nine private businesses, state agencies and South Dakota State University, had just traveled to Shanghai earlier that day after spending several days in Inner Mongolia to meet with the province’s governor, government leaders and private industry members to discuss the potential of a sister-state relationship. The pairing came at the suggestion of both the U.S. and Chinese embassies and “seemed a good fit” for South Dakota, Daugaard said. While Inner Mongolia’s population of about 25 million vastly outnumbers South Dakota’s, it remains a largely rural, agriculture-based society – very similar to South Dakota, he said.
Dairy and livestock are major industries in Inner Mongolia, so trade mission attendees toured a dairy processing facility, one of the largest in China, while visiting the province and discussed increasing dairy products trade.
Daugaard said economic development and cultural and tourism exchanges would comprise the key aspects of a sister-state relationship. Having a Chinese sister-state would also benefit the state in that it would help increase awareness of South Dakota among the people and businesses in the province. “When you’re a small state like South Dakota, it’s a little bit harder to differentiate yourself and get the attention of the government,” he said. “When you go to a smaller province, they’re more rural – more like us – they’re not given as much attention by others. So when they get attention from a state like South Dakota that is similar to them, they pay attention. And because the government pays attention to us, it’s more likely they will urge [trade meetings] to occur.”
Another potential benefit of sister-state relationships is the ability to host reverse trade missions in South Dakota for representatives from the province. Daugaard said he spoke with Inner Mongolia’s minister of commerce about trips to the state and will continue to explore the possibility as discussions regarding the sister-state relationship move forward.
Brad Hennrich, president of Watertown, S.D.-based specialty grain company Hesco Inc., also spoke during the call and said he was appreciative of the state’s efforts to help private companies increase exports to China through trade missions such as this one. “This is not something we could have undertaken on our own,” he said.
China’s market for quality grains is growing rapidly, according to Hennrich, and the people of China are eager to incorporate U.S. grains into their diets in any number of products. Since landing in China last Friday, Hennrich said he has had several meetings with positive outcomes and he indicated that he expected at least one to translate into a future sale. China’s vast market includes export potential for a number of grains, including flax and barley, despite the fact that the country produces many of those same products, because China’s domestically produced crops are lower in quality. “What we have in the U.S. is what they want,” he said.
Kathleen Fairfax, assistant vice president for international affairs and outreach at South Dakota State University, said she was attending the trip as a representative of the state’s higher education institutions and was focused on encouraging greater enrollment of Chinese students at the state’s universities. There are about 250,000 Chinese students enrolled at universities in the U.S. every year, but only about 1,500 of them are enrolled in South Dakota, largely because the state is not well-known in China. Her pitch to Chinese universities, education officials and organizations focused on the safety and beauty of the state as well as the high quality of education and low cost of tuition. She said she hopes to increase collaboration between South Dakota universities and Chinese education stakeholders and is optimistic the state’s universities will attract more Chinese students as a result of the trade mission. “It’s been a great experience here so far,” she said.