Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Pete Weber: Observations from China

Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in China on Tuesday, ready to promote California exports, tourism and greenhouse gas-reduction policies, and to open a foreign trade office in Shanghai. He’s joined by a handful of advisers and about 75 business delegates, including three from the central San Joaquin Valley: John Harris, a prominent west-side rancher who is Harris Farms CEO and chairman; Don Peracchi, another west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board; and Pete Weber, a leader in California Forward and co-chairman of California Friends of the San Joaquin Valley.

Pete Weber

Weber sent a note recapping some of his early impressions:

As just about everyone knows, China has experienced an amazing economic transformation, but there is no substitute for seeing it in person: the impressive construction, the entrepreneurial spirit that has taken over the country, , the commitment to customer service wherever you go, the ascendance of an affluent middle class estimated at about the same size of that in the U.S. (although still  representing a relatively small percentage of the Chinese population). In addition to seeing what’s happening locally, it’s very instructive to share experiences with other delegates who are doing business in the country.  

We had a very full first half day, with interesting briefings about what’s going in China. The most useful part of our first day was a meeting with the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal-by-Products (try getting that on your business card in both English and Mandarin!). We met with the President of the Chamber and about 15 of the Chamber’s members, all of them interested in importing more from the U.S. Ag exports from California have quadrupled in the last 4 years, but are still a drop in the bucket compared to the potential. Doing business in China is very complex, but the possible benefits to California Ag exporters are huge.

The Governor arrived late yesterday afternoon (flight was an hour late), and after cleaning up at the hotel joined the delegation for dinner. We start the day this morning with the MOU signing ceremony. More later.


Three prominent Valley Republicans will join Brown on China trip

Three high-profile central San Joaquin Valley Republicans will be among 75 state leaders who will head to China next week with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

John Harris, a prominent west-side rancher who is Harris Farms CEO and chairman, will head to the Far East along with Don Peracchi, another west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board, and Pete Weber, a leader in California Forward and co-chair of California Friends of the San Joaquin Valley.

Harris, who noted that everyone is paying their own way, said he was “thrilled to be invited.”

“The purpose of the trip is to build and strengthen California’s trade with China,” Harris said.  “Agricultural trade is an important ingredient.  Almost everything we produce here has China as a potential customer. I am a big free trader and I feel that any better access we have to China is a plus.”

As for teaming up with Brown, who is a Democrat, Harris offered high praise for the governor.

“I have known Jerry over the last 35 years or so, and he is definitely the key right now to turning California around, which he is working really hard on doing,” Harris said. “He is leading the water efforts. I don’t think we are all that far apart on most issues.”

Peracchi and Weber couldn’t be reached for comment.

Brown will meet with Chinese government and business leaders and open a new California foreign trade and investment office. The trade mission will include stops in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

It will be from Wednesday, April 10, through Tuesday, April 16.

The delegation joining Brown was organized not by the Brown administration, but by the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit economic advocacy group.

Besides Harris, Peracchi and Weber, the group includes business, economic development, investment and policy leaders from around the state.

Several administration officials will also go along, including California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard.