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Four Years on AmCham China Board: Lessons Learned for US Companies



PRI has a long history of membership and service with the American Chamber of Commerce in China, a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose membership comprises tens of thousands of individuals from nearly 1,000 companies operating across China. PRI Senior Consultant Michael Barbalas served as President of AmCham China while PRI Chairman Dwight Nordstrom was for 17 years the Co-Chair of AmCham’s Manufacturing, Customs, Supply Chain and Sourcing Forum, a position now held by PRI’s Jonathan Kendrick.


This month, PRI Senior Manager Jim Cooper (pictured above right with former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd) wraps up his fourth consecutive year serving on AmCham China’s Board of Governors. Term limits mean he cannot run for re-election for the 2022 Board, so we took this opportunity to interview Jim about his experience as a Board member and lessons learned over the past four years.


What are some of the highlights of your time serving on AmCham’s Board of Governors?


Jim Cooper: It has been interesting to see how AmCham’s influence has grown over the past four years. I cannot think of another organization that has had as much influence for American business in China. This is due mainly to the information gathered from engagement with the vast membership base through frequent events, panel discussions, forums, committees, surveys and the annual whitepaper. We became the ears and voice of the American businesses. This transformed into highly relevant advocacy efforts with both the US and Chinese governments.


(AmCham meeting with former U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad)


What are some of the key trends happening today with US businesses in China?


JC: In terms of US companies entering into or expanding their presence in the Chinese marketplace, the medical and financial industries are seeing a lot of activity at the moment. Meanwhile, the US-China tariffs are driving manufacturing to downsize or at least readjust their supply chains so that they bring in as little as possible from the US in terms of component parts.


For those companies that are manufacturing in China, we are seeing that their growth in sales is primarily within China or in Southeast Asia. Manufacturing exports back to the US have both fallen and risen. For those items where the USA supply chain has become dependent on Chinese goods, those have exceeded all expectations in sales as well as the hurdles of COVID, tariffs, and over-the-top logistics costs.


(AmCham Manufacturing Forum event at Boeing Tianjin Composites facility)


What have been some of your contributions during your time on the Board of Governors?


JC: One of the contributions I have made is gathering the voice for mid-sized companies located outside of Beijing, where the organization has chapter offices: Tianjin, Dalian, Shenyang, and Wuhan. In terms of AmCham, I have seen that during my four years on the Board of Governors, the communication between the chapters and the main office in Beijing is much stronger now. This includes integration of events, inclusion of chapter leadership in Board meetings and government relations activities from Beijing.


(AmCham walking tour of Tianjin)


Serving on the Long-term Strategy Committee for AmCham China was also a highlight. We planned and set the strategic framework for the growth of AmCham China for the next 10 years, setting in motion building blocks and operational structures to enable continued growth, engagement, governance and advocacy.


What are some of the unique issues facing US mid-size manufacturers in China now?


JC: Supply chain, logistics and shipping are big issues. The ongoing tariffs between the US and China are still a big issue as anyone whose business model was based on solely exporting to the US has been hurt. Other issues include changes to the individual income tax (IIT) and foreign investment law that deals with joint ventures, ownership structures, etc. The new tax laws, which go into effect on January 1st, will eliminate deductions that expats previously enjoyed for items like housing and children’s education. The result is a significant burden for foreign companies doing business in China, with some companies already sending home expat families with children and prioritizing single workers in their stead.


Finally, what have you personally learned during these past four years of service?


JC: First, it was an enjoyable experience to interact with the C-level employees of a wide range of multinational and privately held companies, who were my colleagues on the Board of Governors. AmCham is organized like a small or medium enterprise with 50-60 staff but it has an outsized influence across China and the world, with members and volunteers from all of the top companies and access to the top government agencies in China and the US. It was a very broadening, beneficial, and humbling experience. Opportunities to engage with cross-chamber organizations also a highlight.


My conclusion is simple: the communications and influence that goes on through business channels is mind-boggling. Every business chamber (not just AmCham) establishes channels of communications necessary to maintain commerce, trade, regulations, and policies. Therefore, I encourage membership, whether an individual, SME, multinational or Board member. There is no easier way to stay educated, find opportunities and influence outcomes than through a chamber membership and engaging in those established channels of communications.


About PRI: PRI Management and Consulting helps companies thrive in China because we think like owners. With offices in each of China’s major economic super-regions, we help you develop growth strategies, hire and administer some of the world's best engineering talent, build your supply chains and sell your products and services to the world's fastest growing and biggest market.


To schedule your free consultation with PRI’s experienced team of consultants and managers, write to Jonathan Kendrick at jonathan.kendrick@priusa.com


To download our latest whitepaper “Six Critical Steps for China Success in 2021: What Mid-Sized US Companies Must Do Now to Thrive in the World’s Fastest Growing Large Market” and subscribe to our monthly newsletter, visit: https://www.pri-usa.com/six-critical-steps-for-china-success-in-2021