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VOL. 126 | NO. 18 | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Understanding Chinese Law Key to Biz There, Panel Says

By Andy Meek

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Memphis companies and entrepreneurs hungry to enter new markets have a vast opportunity waiting for them in China, a land of more than one billion people who increasingly have money to burn.

The Greater Memphis Chamber’s International Business Council hosted a panel discussion this week with local and international experts to help Memphis businesspeople figure out how to grab a piece of that pie. Success in doing so, they said, includes familiarity with Chinese and international law, something that might sound like a no-brainer but might easily trip up the unaware.

Canadian lawyer Paul Jones, for example, told the Memphis audience there’s a misperception among foreigners that their intellectual property won’t be protected in China.

He also said records of past cases shows there doesn’t appear to be a bias against foreigners in the Chinese court system.

Following Jones in the speaker lineup and picking up the theme of intellectual property, Memphis attorney Susan Fentress said China is poised to take first place in the number of patent applications worldwide in 2011. And it’s also the No. 1 nation where patents are granted, she said.

“There’s a robust (intellectual property) culture in China,” said Fentress, an attorney with Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC.

The hurdles of doing business in China aren’t just of the legal sort. Benefiting from the nearly $70 billion China spent on U.S. exports in 2009 also involves becoming familiar with cultural, social and legislative issues.

But mastering the legal intricacies will help a businessperson go far toward navigating what Jones said is China’s “wild West economy.”

The chamber-led seminar was especially timely, with the arrival of Chinese president Hu Jintao in the U.S. this week for events that included a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The ties between the two nations are solidifying, even down to the local level. Richard Hoffman, manager of Dezan Shira & Associates – a firm that advises clients on incorporations and legal issues surrounding their China investments – said Tennessee is the 14th biggest state exporter to China.

“China offers tremendous opportunity,” said David Spann, director of the Memphis U.S. Export Assistance Center. “There’s over a billion people there, so you’ve got to figure that there’s some opportunity for your product.”

Information resources for anyone wishing to take advantage of those opportunities include the U.S. Export Assistance Center, the chamber’s International Business Council and the University of Memphis Confucius Institute, which has language programs that provide communication tools businesspeople might need.

Sunshine Enterprises, founded in Memphis, focuses on the wholesale and distribution of Chinese construction and industrial equipment in North America and other developed countries.

Sunshine chief operating officer John Chen said China has a rapidly increasing middle class with plenty of disposable income – while in the U.S., it’s just the opposite.

PROPERTY SALES 91 293 13,051
MORTGAGES 58 168 8,171
BUILDING PERMITS 99 744 30,678
BANKRUPTCIES 34 156 6,220