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“I’m here to look to invest”

Money came knocking in Auckland yesterday. And markets. Big markets.

A clutch of New Zealand companies put themselves in a Dragon's Den style spotlight - with the Dragon being investors and vast companies from China and the United States brought to the city under the unusual three-way economic alliance between Auckland, Los Angeles and Guangzhou.

This year's summit, the fifth, has been twinned with our Techweek events to sharpen the minds of the 80 or so business and government officials from the two big cities in the 'Three Sisters' alliance.

The idea is to take it beyond a series of abstract diplomatic Memorandums of Understanding, photo-opportunities and platitudes and focus directly on possible economic benefits for companies in sectors of interest to all three cities.

Guangzhou, in the country's south near Hong Kong is one of China's economic powerhouses, with a population of 13 million in the Pearl River Delta totalling 50 million people and a massive port and industrial base. Los Angeles, population 4 million in a greater metropolis of up to 18 million, has an economy one delegate estimated as slightly bigger than Mexico's.

Some heavy-hitters are here. 

Li Chuyuan chairs Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd, China's largest pharmaceutical manufacturer. China's largest. It ranks 165th among China's biggest corporations and first in Guangdong, the surrounding province.

His presentation also listed him as a 'party secretary' of the Chinese Communist Party. GPHL wants to take traditional Chinese medicines to the world - putting them on a par with western medicines as part of a process he explained as 'modernisation, internationalisation, popularisation and massifaction."

Li said: "There is vast space for China and New Zealand to have cooperation," and ended with a slide saying "Let us expand cooperation to achieve the win-win."

Stephen Cheung is president of the World Trade Center of Los Angeles and executive vice president for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He is one of the original initiators of the Tripartite Economic Alliance and has helped focus it on tangible economic gains in a tight number of sectors like screen production, biotech and life sciences.

Stephen Cheung of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. Photo: Supplied

Cheung echoed a view from Pam Ford, general manager for economic development at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development who said the alliance had fast-forwarded economic benefits from decades of bilateral sister city arrangements between the cities. "From an economic development side, I think, probably, we've expedited this by hundreds of years."

While at the beginning of the three-way alliance there had probably been a desire from Guangzhou and Auckland to give them a leg-up into Hollywood, Cheung said the arrangement had instead morphed into companies from the three cities working together for investment in associated technologies such as video on demand, over-the-top broadcast and virtual and augmented reality.

"This model is becoming so interesting that other folks are now referring to it. This is the first three-city alliance of its type in the world. I think other people are now replicating it and the reason why they're doing so is that the Brookings Institution actually wrote a book on various types of programmes that are supporting foreign direct investment and international collaboration and we were featured," Cheung said. "Around the world people should really start looking at this as a model."

Texas based Ron Hicks, founder and chief executive of HerdX Inc, which allows consumers to trace the origins of meat from cow to table, is a serial entrepreneur and inventor of disruptive technologies, honoured by Business Week magazine for his industrial design. Hicks said his company was "promoting agricultural awareness in consumption of meat" using Blockchain technologies.

Ron Hicks of HerdX,

"We have selected New Zealand as our next country to move into," he told the 250 or so attending. "Our goal is to try to help to assist move products from this country to others. If you can show it's meat from a very well raised livestock animal and if you could move it across the world safely and securely, consumer trust becomes the norm.

"I'm here to look at investing."

That was music to the ears of organisers, whose goal is to go beyond Ted-Talk style impressive presentations to the nitty gritty of putting companies from the three cities together. 

The international investors listed in the event's delegate booklet almost equalled the number of international presenters, from Hicks to a venture capitalist based in Singapore to a fund manager for 53 A-listed companies across China and a Santa Monica-based start-up investor for food, agritech and medical devices.

They heard from Kiwi firms innovating in virtual reality, health technologies and data sharing.

And they heard from companies like PCI-Suntek Technology from Guangzhou, whose vice-president, Liu Bin outlined its extensive development of face recognition, finger vein recognition, intelligent robots and near field communication. His accompanying video showing these technologies at work in daily life around Guangzhou in the metro, public facilities and workplaces looked like a work of science fiction.

The MC, Miriama Kamo, perhaps summed up the presentation and the day well. "We are literally facing the future."

Today the guests, including investors, fan out to venues across Auckland to visit screen production and Maori enterprises, among others. 

The Tripartite, which last year in LA focused on foreign direct investment into that city, returns in 2020 to Guangzhou. It continues to defy its possible categorisation as a glad-handing talkfest. The leader of the Chinese delegation Zhang Shuofu, the city's Communist Party secretary, indicated such alliances fitted with his country's major global trade and economic play, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff lauded the alliance's achievements in setting up business deals worth many millions. The former foreign minister said:  "Cities work at a more intimate level than countries can do."

He talked up Auckland's hosting in 2021 of events such as Apec and the America's Cup.

But that opened him to a zinger from Los Angeles deputy mayor Jeff Gorell: "The most important export from Auckland over the next two years is going to be the America's Cup. We look forward to sending that back."

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