China is the third-largest market for US exports, responsible for more 800,000 US jobs, and helping US businesses tap into the growing Chinese market is a high priority, said Stefan M. Selig, under secretary of commerce for international trade at the US Department of Commerce.

Selig spoke on Tuesday at the opening of the Discover Global Markets Greater China Region forum in New York. The conference is part of the US Commercial Service Business Forum Series. The US Commercial Service is the trade-promotion arm of the Commerce department’s International Trade Administration (ITA).

Selig, who was confirmed by the Senate for his current post in June, said ITA’s largest presence overseas is in China to help US firms take advantage of the seismic shift in China’s population and economy.

“About 200 million Chinese are in the process of moving from rural to urban areas in the country. The result of this is a massive increase in purchasing power fueled by one of the largest middle-class expansions we have ever seen,” said Selig.

Selig said that in 1985 US exports to China totaled less than $3 billion, and last year that number was a record $122 billion.

“We at the ITA stand ready to provide the services US businesses need to break into the Chinese market,” Selig said. “We can help with financing and technical and legal assistance. I think this is very important for small-and medium-sized businesses that may not be able to afford these resources.”

In noting that China ranks just behind Canada and Mexico in US exports, he said, “What is interesting is we have a free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, but we don’t have one with China.

Selig cited two New York City businesses that he said can serve as role models on how to expand into China.

In 2008, the New York Film Academy, which trains students for careers in film and media production, started working with ITA to recruit students from Chinese mainland. It eventually expanded recruitment to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has greatly increased the number of students from Asia.

Ben-Amun is a luxury jewelry brand founded by designer Isaac Manevitz. The company has provided jewelry for a number of celebrities, including former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis model Kate Moss, singers Fergie and Rihanna and film actress Blake Lively.

“In 2012, Ben-Amun decided to expand into China and turned to the ITA. We helped to arrange for financing and also a spot at a trade show in the country. At that show, the company met what became its Chinese partner. Last year Ben-Amun recorded over $120,000 in China sales,” Selig said.

Selig acknowledged that there are some tensions in the US-China trade relationship, notably on matters involving intellectual property rights and antitrust investigations of US firms Microsoft Corp and Qualcomm Inc.

At a news conference after his speech, Selig said the antitrust issue is a concern for US businesses.

“It is clear that China is stepping up its enforcement,” he said. “We have told our counterparts in China that this is a significant concern of the US business community. We will continue to engage with the Chinese government on this topic. One thing I told them is that if this is not addressed, it will have an effect on US businesses.”

By PAUL WELITZKIN October 8, 2014 in China Daily