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Interview: Justin Highman on the success of the China expo

Interview: Justin Highman on the success of the China expo

By Cassandra Tanti - December 6, 2019

The Monaco Economic Board, together with 12 Monegasque entities, recently headed to Shanghai for the China International Import Expo. Two deals were signed and the foundation was laid for further possible collaborations.

Monaco Life spoke to Monaco Invest Director Justin Highman about the mission and how China is fast becoming a viable business option for the Principality.

Monaco Life: Can you tell us how the Monaco Economic Board became interested in the China International Import Expo?

Justin Highman: The expo we attended was the 2nd edition, held in Shanghai at the initiative of President Xi Jinping himself, who wanted an exhibition in China that regroups all of the foreign entities that wish to trade into China. There are already many expos all over the country, but he thought to bring them all into one major annual event.

It went ahead under the guidance of Monaco’s Ambassador to China H.E. Catherine Fautrier, who also happened to be the chief instigator of President Xi’s state visit in March and the very successful trade mission in September 2019.

The previous trade missions in China we did were good but the response was not as positive as in September when we accompanied HSH Prince Albert’s state visit to Beijing and we had a number of MEB members sign contracts. It was then that we felt that something was happening with our Chinese counterparts, the national Chamber of Commerce, and even more so when President Xi Jinping visited Monaco in March this year. So, the Ambassador said we simply must try our hardest to do this show as the Chinese were very willing for us to be there and give us a lot of support.

H.E. Catherine Fautrier, Monaco’s Ambassador to China, and Justin Highman, Monaco Invest Director, with some participants from the Monegasque delegation in the Monaco Pavilion. Credit DR

What did Monaco’s participation look like?

We had a great delegation representing many sectors of the diversified Monegasque economy with 12 different entities – Aton Green Energy, AS Monaco, Cosmetics and Capillaries Monaco, GPS Monaco, l’Orangerie, Mazza Real Estate, Monacobor, Therascience, Carthage Heritage, ABTS & Partners, and Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer and us – in a well-designed area of ​​136 m² to present the Principality’s know-how and economic assets.

We showed promotional films of HSH Prince Albert, of the economy, of tourism, of SBM’s hotels, of Monaco under different angles… which really attracted people. Each company from Monaco also had their own booth within our pavilion with a screen to show their corporate film as well as an area for meetings, then at the centre we had a larger meeting area for more significant delegations.

We had a number of visits from Chinese buyers, distribution agents and traders who were looking to buy foreign quality goods and who were very attracted to the ‘Monaco’ brand. The two cosmetics companies, in particular, did very well.

This exhibition is enormous, we are talking over 400,000 square metres, with a total of 181 countries, regions and international organisations represented, and 3,800 companies taking part in the exhibition. The number of registered buyers and other professional visitors exceeded 500,000.

Monaco Invest Director Justin Highman promoting the Principality’s advantages to a Chinese audience. Credit DR

So how did you make Monaco stand out?

We were in the ‘Country Pavilion’ with about 90 pavilions of roughly the same size and everyone walked through the different countries to learn more about them and their products. We were bordered with Brazil, Costa Rica, Portugal, and France was not too far away. But everyone was attracted to the Monaco stand – we had a picture of the meeting between HSH Prince Albert II and President Xi Jinping that they all wanted to see. And surprisingly football was also a huge attraction, so we were lucky to have AS Monaco Football Club with us. In fact, many stands were using football as a drawcard – Spain had football shirts and Portugal had a goal where you could kick a football into it.

That’s when you know of the significance of the new initiatives of MEB’s CEO Guillaume Rose. His idea of going beyond economy and selling the attractiveness of other aspects like sports, science or culture – the Opera de Monte-Carlo, the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Scientific Centre of Monaco – it makes sense. All the other countries are doing it because it brings you the right kind of prospects, the right kind of people – and that is the heads of companies. They are attracted by a more holistic view, by other things rather than just the economy.

We also represented Monaco’s interests in ecology and the environment with a renewable energy company named Aton Green Energy. By the way, Beijing and Shanghai are very much already down the green energy route with electric taxis, buses and bikes so the renewable energy sector is a concrete opportunity in Asia.

Monaco Economic Board Members Rendez-Vous. Credit MEB/ CARTE BLANCE

What was the response from the businesses who participated?

While there were some issues, notably accessibility to the site because there were so many people coming in every day, as well as the language barrier, our latest satisfaction survey from participants indicates that everyone was very positive about the experience.

They felt that they really gauged the size of the market and the potential of Chinese buyers. When you consider that you could meet people who represent a network of 350 spas or 350 opticians for example, suffice to say that just one out of the hundreds of people we saw over the five days represents so much business, compared to anywhere else in the world.

Clearly, the potential is huge – 1.4 four billion is just the internal market of China, meanwhile many Chinese companies have assets and subsidiaries all over Asia. So, if you find a long-term and reliable partner at this expo, you could potentially thrive in China but also Asia.

Signature of an agreement between Frimo and Baiyang, witnessed by H.E. Catherine Fautrier, Monaco’s Ambassador to China. Credit DR

Two companies in particular signed deals during the trip, can you tell us about that?

Mirco Albisetti, CEO of the meat export-import company Frimo, sold part of his company to a Chinese entity, Baiyang. He likened this as the second significant signature with a Chinese company after the Monaco Telecom – Huawei deal. Meanwhile, Therascience Comestics signed an agreement with China Comfort Group Chong Qing & Slow Loo, an entity in Chongqingto to distribute its products within the city, which represents over 10 million people.

That’s why participants were so happy with the trip. They were so thankful that the Ambassador and the MEB wanted to do this because they wouldn’t have done it on their own. China is just so big, and many companies feel out of their depth.

The aim of the MEB is to help generate business for our members locally, with our neighbours and internationally. Because at the end of the day, the more businesses that is generated, the more that is invested into the Monaco economy. And if we can help in any way, shape or form, then we have done the job and we are happy!


Read more about the MEB in our Part 2 interview with Justin Highman coming soon. 

Top photo: Justin Highman, Director of Monaco Invest


Read also:

Ambassador to China Catherine Fautrier talks to Monaco Life

Chinese Academy of Sciences Holdings Co., Ltd. and Innovator Capital Limited sign a Cooperation Agreement

Monaco strengthens bond with China

Riviera forges new relationship with China

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