Sr. Partner Joe Jurken Discusses Exporting to China with BizTimes

U.S trade deficit was $42.4 billion in November

by: Arthur Thomas

Tom Bentley says he is trying to be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to drawing attention to the United States’ trade deficit, which was $42.4 billion November.

The Bentley World Packaging chief executive officer was part of a panel at Friday’s Independent Business Association of Wisconsin meeting on exports. It was one of a dozen speeches he’s made recently on the subject and he was joined by Asian Business Consultants partner Joe Jurken and Damian Felton from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Bentley said the trade deficit is not receiving the attention it needs, adding that he expects it won’t become an issue until the next presidential election.

“We’re just sending all that money overseas and nobody is aware of the magnitude of the problem,” Bentley said. “It’s too bad, because this is a very, very serious problem and its getting worse.”

He added that manufacturers are challenged by lower wages in other countries, different regulatory environments and less stringent requirements.

“We can’t end up a country that doesn’t make anything that we consume,” Bentley said, adding that as a hunter he is dismayed to go through stores and see all the clothing is made elsewhere. “There’s nothing made in the United States except the beef jerky sticks that you buy at the checkout counter.”

Both Jurken and Bentley said there are a number of facets to the trade deficit, but both agreed that companies exporting more, whether it’s to China or elsewhere, would help the matter.

Jurken said that “to some degree, the horse is out of the barn.”

He first went to China in 1985 and established an office for his family’s leather business in Hong Kong by the early 1990s. He was able to build it up to $30 million in sales, but the Chinese caught on and began building tanneries and show companies of their own. By 2001, his family company was out of business.

Jurken now works with American manufacturers looking to source from or sell to China.

“I don’t consider China a threat or an enemy,” Jurken said. “I don’t trust them completely, but I don’t consider them someone we should not be doing business with. And that’s coming from a guy who lost a family business that still haunts me today.”

Jurken said he generally feels companies considering exporting to China should generally meet two requirements first. He said they need to have a comfort zone and then know their product and industry and where they fit in it.

“I think a lot of people have a fear of selling to China,” Jurken said, noting people often cite concerns about getting paid, having their intellectual property stolen or not understanding cultural differences. “If you find yourself in that position you probably aren’t someone who should be exporting to China, you just don’t have the comfort level to do so.”

The instances of not getting paid are isolated, Jurken said, adding that there are a number of ways for companies to be protected in international trade. As for cultural differences, he said there were plenty of cultural differences when his dad went to sell leather in Mississippi in the 1950s, but he ended up doing more business there than the years Jurken did in China.

Jurken also said that there aren’t many secrets in 2016 and companies shouldn’t be scared of having their intellectual property stolen.

“If that product had any value, the Chinese would have reversed engineered it and be selling it against you,” he said.

His main message was for companies to have realistic expectations, perhaps taking one or two key products into one market.

“You really have to do your homework and study what your industry is doing,” he said, adding “Stick with it, take your time and there’s a chance for good things to happen.”