Asian delegation plans first visit to Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

By Doreen Hemlock
Business Writer
Posted October 19 2005

When Fort Lauderdale hosts its international boat show next week, the country making the biggest waves on the global business scene will send a major buying delegation for the first time: the People's Republic of China.

Up to 34 people from 18 Chinese companies are expected to attend, including representatives from Chinese boat manufacturers as well as Chinese marinas and yacht clubs, according to U.S. Commerce Department officials helping bring the group.

The visit comes as China is gaining ground as a yacht supplier and as a buyer of recreational boats.

The Chinese government has been encouraging foreign investment in boat-building since the 1990s, touting the country's relatively low costs for labor and land as well as the availability of fine craftsmen. Many companies from Taiwan have relocated boatyards to mainland China, especially in eastern coastal cities.

China now hosts about 260 boat makers that produced about $250 million in boats in 2003, many using components bought outside China, according to a report from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.

At the same time, China's economic boom is spurring demand for yachts and pleasure boats, both from the country's fast-growing middle class and from soaring numbers of tourists. Some boats are being imported, including a 116-foot Sir Winston luxury yacht bought in Florida last year for cruising along Shanghai's Huangpu River, the report said.

The latest available data show a 67 percent jump to $8.12 million in China's imports of yachts and other pleasure boats in the first 10 months last year, compared to the same period in 2003. The United States was the top supplier, according to Chinese government data cited by the U.S. Consulate.

China's demand for boats is expected to spike further as Beijing prepares for the 2008 Olympics and Shanghai welcomes the 2010 World Expo. China is building new water sports facilities to support sailboat, windsurfing and water-skiing events for the Olympics. And Shanghai plans marinas and cruise-ship centers along its downtown river.

U.S. Commerce officials said they helped organize the Chinese delegation to South Florida to boost China's purchases from the United States. It also is setting up one-on-one matchmaking sessions with potential U.S. partners for the Chinese visitors, which include among others:

Shanghai Metropolitan Yacht Co. Ltd., which already serves as a distributor for the United Kingdom's Princess and Australia's Sunrunner lines.

Shanghai Feibao Boat Co. Ltd., a manufacturer seeking to buy yacht engines and other accessories.

Ningbo Global Yacht Co. Ltd., which is looking to develop a yacht club in Ningbo city in eastern China.

China Boat Industry and Trade Association, which looks to help develop the yacht business in China.

In addition to attending the Oct. 27-31 boat show in Fort Lauderdale, members of the Chinese group also are to visit Port Everglades, South Florida boat-building companies, marinas and other business sites. Many local visits are being arranged through the Broward Alliance, the county's economic development group.

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida also is reaching out to the Chinese visitors to help encourage sales from South Florida overseas.

"The export market is very important for our members," said Frank Herhold, the association's executive director. "The companies that do international business seem to better weather the ups and downs of the American market."

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