Shanghai is a city that takes your breath away and you can’t help but be impressed by its vibrancy and the rapid pace of change. It is truly an international city, and one of the great cities of the world”.

“During that first trip I was struck by the sense of progress and opportunity and by the enormous pride you sensed from the Chinese people in the success of their nation.”

That Ministerial visit inspired Mr Dalidakis, who has been a tireless champion of the relationship between Victoria and China ever since. But Mr Dalidakis’ links to China comes also from his own personal connection to the country.

“For me China is much more than a trading partner, it is a place where my Jewish grandparents found sanctuary as refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. It is where my mother was born. Shanghai was the only port open to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe” he said.

“Because of my deeply personal connection with China and its people, I feel honored to now contribute to strengthening the relationship between our two countries, promoting trade, promoting investment, promoting Victoria. But most of all, building a bridge between East and West.”

Since 2015, Mr Dalidakis has visited China three times, working with Chinese officials, businesses and industry stakeholders on everything from medical technology and innovation to sports diplomacy and water management. He even took his family back on holiday to trace his
mother’s childhood in Shanghai.

The relationship has flourished and Mr Dalidakis remains a champion for Victorian businesses who want to break into China’s massive market as well as promoting Victoria as the ideal destination for Chinese investors.

A strong believer in Victoria’s potential to become a global hub of business, innovation and digital technology, Mr Dalidakis has his sights firmly set on Asia, particularly China where Victorian companies are making a huge impact and trade is booming.

Two-way trade with China is now worth $23.4 billion, well up from the $20.4 billion it was worth in 2014-15 and making the country Victoria’s largest two-way trading partner.

Recently returning from his third ministerial trade mission to China in four years, Mr Dalidakis maintains the opportunities for trade and investment in the region are continuing to grow.

“Our relationship with China is growing with a greater level of sophistication than it has had in the past.” he said.

“What we are seeing is that Victorian companies, universities and cultural institutions have developed strong ties with Chinese partners over time and now they are building on these relationships to deliver exciting new projects and collaborations.”

Victoria exports more goods to China than anywhere else in the world. In 2017, one fifth of the state’s total goods went to China; these were worth $6.3 billion.

When you compare this to the next largest goods export, the United States at $3.2 billion, you start to see the size and economic importance of the Chinese market.

The economic impact of two-way trade with China is easily quantifiable and undoubtedly an important part of Victoria’s trade and investment landscape, but there is more to the state’s trade with China than meets the eye.

Not only does the Victoria-China trade relationship open new pathways for Victorian businesses to crack into China’s multi-billion-dollar market and reach hundreds of millions of new customers, it also gives Chinese companies access to Victoria and the opportunity to take
advantage of everything the state has on offer.

“Victoria is renowned for having some of the cleanest, greenest products in the world, leading digital technology skills and expertise, and a knack for coming up with innovative ideas and this is exactly what the Chinese market is looking for,” he said.

“At the same time, Victoria’s ideal business conditions, low-leasing costs, regulatory transparency and well-established infrastructure make our state an extremely attractive investment destination for Chinese companies of all shapes and sizes.”

Selling Victoria to the world and bringing in large scale investment is the key to growing Victoria’s economy and creating more jobs,  something Mr Dalidakis and the Victorian Government is strongly focused on.

In 2017, e-commerce giant Alibaba decided to set up shop in Victoria, basing its new Australia and New Zealand regional headquarters in  Melbourne. In February of this year, another of China’s largest e-commerce retailers in JD.com opened its Australia and New Zealand  regional headquarters in Melbourne.

More recently Victoria has also seen investments from other major Chinese companies like VIP.com and, in June, China’s largest ride sharing service DiDi Chuxing launched in Victoria.

“Alibaba and JD.com alone have a combined reach of more than 800 million customers which presents an incredible opportunity for Victoria to showcase its world class products to a huge market,” he said.

“The Victorian Government has worked with these companies from the ground up to kickstart their businesses in Victoria. This gives them the opportunity to grow in a new market and expand their businesses, while at the same time contributing to the Victorian economy.”

Many of these recent investments have been facilitated by our Victorian Government Trade and Investment offices located throughout China in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Chengdu and Hong Kong.

At these offices, local Victorian Government representatives work closely with Chinese businesses interested in trading with and investing in Victoria and take the leg work out of entering the Victorian market.

The success of companies like Alibaba in Victoria demonstrates the level of support and opportunities the Victorian Government has helped cultivate.

“It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing a steady stream of Chinese companies choosing to call Victoria home,” Mr Dalidakis said.

“We pride ourselves on welcoming international investment with open arms and are committed to making Victoria as attractive as possible to the international market.”

The Victorian Government is making a push to strategically target areas of Chinese growth and promote the skills and expertise of Victorian companies to these areas.

Mr Dalidakis has used the recent Australian Football League matches in China as a chance to promote Victoria’s capability in sport technology and to explore opportunities for Victoria to contribute to China’s Five- Year Sports Development plan.

The five-year plan aims to grow China’s sporting sector to $USD 460 billion by the end of 2020, representing huge opportunities for Victorian companies to get in on the action.

“By using sport to build relationships we have created another platform to promote Victoria’s globally renowned products, skills and expertise, helping local companies get their foot in the door of one of the fastest growing markets in the world,” he said.

“Around 65 per cent of Victorian sports technology companies call Victoria home. You only need to look as far as sport technology companies like Catapult Sport, Champion Data, and Sting to realise what Victoria is capable of offering the world.”

Not only is Victoria leading in sport technology, the state is also renowned for having the cleanest, greenest and safest food and fibre in Australia, and this remains a strong driver of the state’s export, especially in dairy where it exports more than $327 million to China each year.
Since the introduction of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2015, significant barriers have been removed, putting Victoria in an excellent position to export its agricultural products. Right now, 65 per cent of Victoria’s goods exported to China are within the food
and fibre space.

Making the most of its leading reputation, the Victorian  Government frequently runs food and fibre trade missions to China helping local companies promote everything from table grapes and apples to almonds and wheat.

The most recent of these missions was in May to SIAL, Asia’s largest food innovation exhibition, where 28 Victorian companies showcased their products to more than 110,000 professionals from across Asia and the world.

“SIAL is the perfect example of a Victorian Government led trade mission leading to real outcomes for Victorian companies and a clear demonstration of the Chinese hunger for a high-quality and reliable food and fibre,” Mr Dalidakis said.

“Our immediate export sales at SIAL were more than $1.2 million and over the next 13 to 24 months we expect to see this number grow to more than $14 million.”

Strong relationships are not built overnight, and the Victorian Government has worked hard to foster strong ties with China, building on 150 years of shared people-to-people, culture, trade and business.

“The Chinese market represents so many opportunities for Victoria and China alike, and we are making sure we invest heavily now to pave way for an even stronger relationship in the future,” he said.

In 2016, the Victorian State Government released its China Strategy: Partnerships for Prosperity. The strategy sets out a plan for how Victoria and China can work more closely with one another, supporting economic ties, but also deepening cultural understanding.

Key to strengthening this relationship was the commitment by Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews to have every Victorian Government Minister visit China at least once by the end of the first electoral term, a commitment Mr Dalidakis and all Victorian Government Ministers have now met.

“I think this is the key to understanding China’s exponential growth and standing on the world stage. I also think it is why Victoria and China have been able to form such a strong relationship,” he said.

In May of this year, the Victorian Government released a China Strategy progress report. The report showed in just two years, the ten-year target for investment in China has been exceeded.

“At the time of the China strategy announcement, some people said the ten-year targets were overly ambitious. Yet we’ve already exceeded our investment targets and are well on the way to exceeding others within two years.”

Recognising the approach to the Chinese market needs to be multi-faceted, Partnerships for Prosperity is just one of the many ways the Victorian Government is fostering the state’s relationship with China.

When the Victorian Government launched its Trade Statement: Globally Connected in August 2017, a blueprint for Victoria’s global trade and investment agenda, it outlined a suite of initiatives aimed at strengthening Victoria’s relationships across Asia.

The Business Ambassador Program is one of the initiatives to fall out of the trade statement with Alibaba’s Australia and New Zealand CEO Maggie Zhou named Victoria’s first business ambassador.

The program enlists high-profile business leaders with strong connections to Victoria to promote the Victorian Government’s trade and investment agenda overseas.

“Alibaba’s presence in Victoria has been notable and our relationship with the company has continued to go from strength-to-strength, so appointing Maggie as our first business ambassador was an obvious choice,” he said.

“Maggie has a wealth of knowledge and experience operating in the Chinese market and having her part of this program is helping Victoria better understand the trade and investment opportunities in China.”

Another key initiative to come out of the trade strategy is the Asia Gateway Voucher Program, designed to address knowledge gaps, and help build capabilities for Victorian companies looking to enter the Asian market, especially in China.

“This voucher program is helping companies who might have considered entering the Chinese market but aren’t sure about the cultural aspects or what it takes to do business and succeed in the highly competitive Chinese market,” he said.

The program offers businesses funding of up to $50,000 to build their export skills and better engage with buyers and key decision makers across Asia.

“The Victorian Government wants to give our businesses the tools and support they need to succeed in Asia, opening more opportunities for trade and investment, growing our economy and creating local jobs,” he said.

In early 2018, Minister for Women Natalie Hutchins led the first all-women business delegation to China showcasing Victoria's world-class industry capabilities, highlighting and promoting the leadership of Victorian women in business. It was a huge success and we look forward to investing in more of these delegations in the future. Encouraging people-to-people connections are important to helping strengthen the Victoria-China relationship.

The Hamer Scholarships Program gives recipients the chance to spend up to six months in China to undertake intensive language study and cultural immersion. The program leverages the sister-state relationship between Victoria and Jiangsu Province, scholarships
originally awarded for study at Nanjing University, Nanjing Normal University, Jiangnan University in Wuxi and Soochow University in Suzhou.

The newly formed sister-state relationship between Victoria and Sichuan Province in 2016 has also allowed scholars to study at Sichuan University in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province. In June this year Mr Dalidakis awarded another sixteen Victorians a Hamer Scholarship bringing the total number of Victorian Hamer Scholars to China to 145.

The strength of the Victoria-China relationship looks bright and the future between the two is bound to be full of new opportunities, stronger ties and shared goals. “I believe that building stronger trade, cultural and personal ties with China is obviously important, But we must never lose sight of the true importance of our people-to-people links. Respect, trust, dignity, understanding, and above all else, friendship. This will be our legacy in the Victoria-China relationship”.