A heavy-hitting delegation from Dunedin is about to head to China with high hopes of unlocking "significant" new business opportunities and foreign investment riches.
The trip has been organised by Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie, who departs for Shanghai tomorrow with Dunedin City Council chief executive Paul Orders and deputy mayor Chris Staynes, travelling as a chamber board member.
Mr Christie said the trip aimed to unlock potentially "huge" untapped opportunities in tourism, business and foreign investment available in Shanghai.
He hoped to boost already burgeoning trade between the two cities, which had seen "dozens" of Dunedin companies begin trading in China in recent years, generating turnover already "in the millions" and growing.
A council staff member, originally from Shanghai, was already in the city arranging meetings for the delegation, Mr Christie said.
As part of the trio's trip, they would meet representatives from the Shanghai Tourism Bureau to discuss ways of adding Dunedin to the itineraries of more outbound tour operators based in China, he said.
A series of meetings was also arranged with private sector entities in China to discuss ways of increasing food and beverage exports from Dunedin to China, he said.
Exactly which companies they would meet remained under wraps, but they were "large entities that are very interested in working with us", he said.
The benefits in that area alone were potentially "huge", Mr Christie said.
"We believe there's a lot of opportunity for our food and beverage product to go into the Chinese market, through Shanghai specifically."
The group would also meet Shanghai Education Commission representatives, which had helped form relationships with the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic and some high schools, to discuss expanding those links, he said.
The aim was to increase the number of Dunedin schools having links with schools in Shanghai, to boost the number of Chinese pupils coming to Dunedin, he said.
The improved links could also help boost revenue for Dunedin from "export education" - selling education programmes and services to China, Mr Christie said.
A visit to a Shanghai industrial park was also planned, to look at possible collaboration with Chinese companies in the fields of biotechnology and information technology, he said.
Meetings were also scheduled with Chinese government entities to discuss ways to tap into China's growing wealth by attracting more investment into Dunedin, he said.
Despite vocal opposition to date, plans for the $100 million waterfront hotel in Dunedin - funded by Chinese interests - would be raised, where appropriate, to show Dunedin was "open for business", he said.
"There is a lot of interest in China for companies and places to invest money, and we want to make sure Dunedin is on that radar," he said.
"We have got Chinese investors willing to invest $100 million into our economy. We want more of that."
The trip was organised after the chamber, council and other stakeholders worked together to prepare a new Dunedin economic development strategy, which emphasised the need to capitalise on sister city links with Shanghai.
Mr Orders said the need for that approach was underscored by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development projections, which showed the economic "balance of power" swinging towards China and India over the next 40 years.
"[Dunedin] has to position itself to meet the challenge of what, potentially, is going to be an Asian century," he said.
The strategy's emphasis on China - among other initiatives - did not make it a "silver bullet" for the city's fortunes, but there were "potentially ...
significant benefits" to be found, he said.
"I don't buy arguments around silver bullets ... but it [China] is clearly one of the potential areas that we need to concentrate on in order to develop the city's economy in the next five to 10 years," he said.
Mr Christie said it was hoped a more substantial delegation, possibly led by Mayor Dave Cull, would visit Shanghai next year, marking 20 years of sister city relations and hopefully advancing initiatives to be discussed next week.
Mr Christie said the chamber had seen "quite significant" growth in the number of Dunedin companies expressing interest in the Chinese market in the past 18 months.
Turnover was already "in the millions ... and that will only grow", he said.