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Harbin

Harbin is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang Province with a population of almost 10 million. The city is the political, economic, and cultural center of Heilongjiang Province. The pillar industries in Harbin are equipment manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and petrochemicals. The city also has a natural abundance of nutrient rich black soil, which makes it ideal for agricultural businesses.

Harbin is known as the “Ice City” for its long and cold winter, and the famous ice festival that it holds each year. Harbin harbor is one of China’s eight inland ports and the largest in the country’s Northeast region. Equipped with a strong infrastructure, the city is a major transportation gateway with an international land bridge and nearly 500 trains terminating or passing through.

Foreign Trade Landscape

In 2017, Harbin’s GDP was $90.4 billion (RMB 635.51 billion), and its GDP per capita was $9,466 (RMB 66,545). In terms of sector-wise contribution to the city’s GDP, manufacturing accounted for 28.6 percent while services contributed 60.5 percent. Recently, the service industry has seen steady growth, in part due to retail and tourism.

The same year saw foreign trade in Harbin fall to $3.35 billion (RMB 23.55 billion) – a decrease of 18.5 percent from 2016. Harbin’s imports and exports declined 19.9 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively. Despite the recent economic downturn, a rebound over the next few years is expected. In 2017, Harbin’s exports stood at $1.3 billion (RMB 9.14 billion) while imports were $1.9 billion (RMB 13.36 billion). Major trading partners are the U.S., Russia, Japan, and Brazil.

Key Industries

Electrical Machinery

Heilongjiang Province has identified heavy industry – namely machinery and transportation equipment manufacturing – as a key area in need of development because manufacturing produces the bulk of Harbin’s industrial output. The modernization and mechanization of Harbin’s sizeable agricultural industry also remains a government priority. This scenario presents important opportunities for American exporters, particularly as machines, engines, and pumps topped U.S. exports in 2018, amounting to $213.1 billion (12.8 percent of exports).

Fertilizer and Paper Pulp

Harbin is a major base for the production of commodity grains, and textile-related and other cash crops, due to the region’s nutrient-rich ‘black earth’ soil. The city has established a complete agricultural process chain, with the agricultural sector accounting for around 10 percent of the city’s GDP.

Fertilizers and paper pulp are key commodities imported by Harbin. Both are old and established industries in the U.S. – American fertilizer, while experiencing difficulty in recent years, is still a $13 billion-strong industry, while paper exports rose to $16.4 billion in 2018 (up by 9.3 percent). Harbin’s need for these products offers U.S. exporters viable commercial opportunities in Northeast China.

Retail and Tourism

Retail and tourism are key industries of Harbin’s services sector. In 2017, the sale of consumer goods rose by 8 percent, to $57.54 billion (RMB 404.5 billion). In the same year, more than 77 million tourists visited the city, contributing revenue of about $17 billion (RMB 119.51 billion).

The retail and tourism industries are driven by China’s rising disposable incomes, which have led to changes in consumer shopping habits. As younger generations become more exposed to global trends through social media and increasing economic stability, U.S. exporters can use niche market opportunities such as toys, convenience foods, personal care, and baby products. With its excellent infrastructure, Harbin is an ideal location to access this new consumer group.

Harbin and Minneapolis Sister City Relationship

Harbin has had a sister-city relationship with Minneapolis since 1992. Several official delegations from Minneapolis have visited Harbin to explore various business opportunities and promote cultural dialogue. Most recently, Minneapolis City Council members Kevin Reich and Steve Fletcher led a delegation to Harbin in early 2019; and several future exchanges have been proposed, which include the establishment of a China Garden in Minneapolis and coordination between the two cities to promote winter-related commercial activity.


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