'Hanbao' is booming
While German companies attempt to forge export markets in China’s fast-growing economy, Hamburg is rapidly emerging as a major hub for Chinese firms trying to establish a foothold in Europe and Germany says Douglas Sutton.
German trade relations with China are surging forward at double-digit rates, and one city above all others in Germany has emerged as the hub for the dynamic growth.
The local Chinese business people call it "Hanbao" - "Chinese Fort" - but otherwise it is better known as Germany's second-largest city, Hamburg.
With its huge Elbe River port and centuries of tradition in import-export trade, including with China, Hamburg has become the top business site for Chinese companies establishing a foothold in both Germany and Europe, city business promotion officials say.
According to the Hamburg Economic Promotion Company HWF, there were just three Chinese companies with offices in Hamburg in 1985. That figure was up to 35 by 1990, to 120 by 1995 and then 200 in the year 2000.
Today, there are some 300 Chinese companies in "Hanbao", a figure not including the scores of Chinese restaurants and speciality food and clothing shops. Hamburg, a city of some 1.8 million, now counts some 10,000 Chinese residents.
There may not be a Chinatown here like in Paris or London, but Hamburg has done a lot for us," said Bin Hsu, 33, who has lived in the city since 1990 and runs an advertising agency along with a business magazine.
According to the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, China now is the city's fourth-biggest foreign trade partner. In 1995, imports from China were just over EUR1.5 billion. Last year the figure was more than EUR 3 billion.
Business officials also report that some 700 Hamburg companies have set up commercial relations with China, with around 100 such firms with offices in the country. Half of these companies are based in Shanghai, Hamburg's official partner city.
One of the most prominent Hamburg companies in China is the clothing firm Tom Tailor, which has been had its clothing made in China for 20 years but has also just recently opened its first sales store in Beijing. The company is planning 50 further stores in China in the next two years.
"The energy level in this country is enormous," Tom Tailor chief executive Michael Rosenblat told the local daily newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.
Hardly a day goes by when the local press is not reporting some new business development between Hamburg and China. Most recently, the Zhonglu Fruit Juice company from Beijing established its European headquarters in the northern German city.
Amid the surging volume in trade, Hamburg-based shipping companies are reporting robust growth.
The Hamburg Sued shipping firm announced plans to make Hong Kong its central operational headquarters for the Asian region, for example, while the Hamburg Port Authority cites trade growth with China as the reason behind the strong expansion in container traffic.
Through August, Hamburg's container port had shown 15.4 percent growth in the turnover of standard TEU containers. After 5.4 million TEU turnover last year, the port now foresees topping the 6 million mark in 2003, putting Hamburg right behind Rotterdam.
About one-fifth of all container traffic in Hamburg is accounted for by ships arriving from, or heading to China, and turnover of Chinese freight at the container port in 2002 surged by 33 percent.
Amid the expansion in business ties and the arrival of more Chinese merchants and companies, private investors are now planning a new 10-hectare centre in the Elbe River port area of Harburg to be called the "China Channel Hamburg", which will feature an 18-story China Tower.
Still, Chinese residents believe the city could do more to promote itself in their country. Kinny Mao, 35, who came to Hamburg for the Zhonglu Fruit Juice company after six years in Canada, recommends: "Hamburg must advertise itself more directly in China."
She adds that this is not a problem restricted to Hamburg itself. "So many business people want to go to Germany, but there is so little information about the country in China."
It's a criticism that the city government of Hamburg, aiming to keep the business expansion momentum going, is taking seriously. It has set up an office to coordinate and specially promote business ties with China, and the German city's Chinese activities are to be posted on an Internet site in 2004.
At the same time, Hamburg is planning to launch a series of conferences titled "China meets Europe", while also stepping up the number of events and activities with its partner city Shanghai.
Possibly the most visible symbol of Hamburg's rise to prominence in business with China will be the future city of Luchao designed by top Hamburg architect Meinhard von Gerkan.
The city to be located close to Shanghai and designed for 800,000 residents will have a large lake in its centre - in a copy of the Alster Lake which located in the heart of Hamburg.
At the moment, the future city is still just an excavation site. But by 2010, Luchao will already be home to several hundred thousand people. "Anyone who knows the Chinese know that this prospect is no utopia," architect van Gerkan said.