Meet Robbie Wang: agricultural advisor at the Consulate General in Guangzhou, China

Robbie Wang is agricultural advisor (AA) at the Consulate General in Guangzhou and covers South China. Robbie started at the CG Guangzhou at the beginning of this year, after being posted as agricultural advisor in Hong Kong for seven years. In this interview Robbie introduces himself and shares his vision on the agricultural opportunities in South China.  

Robbie Wang
Robbie Wang

What does your work as agricultural advisor mean?

I am part of the agricultural team in China.  The head of the agricultural team is the agricultural counsellor, Wouter Verhey, based at the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing. Granting me more independence and of course more responsibilities. And I of course am also part of the team at the Consulate here in Guangzhou (GZ).

As agricultural advisor I am responsible for all agro food related affairs in South China, Hong Kong and Macau. The other regions are covered by respectively 5 other colleagues. Events, trade missions or exchange events are my expertise. I act as an official communication liaison with the local authorities.

The only divide we feel is geographically, but we are one agricultural team. Challenges are met with support all around. The last Horti mission in Guangzhou was quite demanding for instance, and immediately 2 colleagues at the seminar offered their help by coordinating the works on site. This goes both ways of course.

To have a position without being in close proximity to your supervisor can be unorthodox. In my case it meant the trust I was given, helps me to grow professionally. Encountering challenges gave me an on the job learning school while my supervisor became more like a mentor. His guidance on how to deal with important events, matters and decisions has given me valuable tools to deal with demanding situations.

Where are you stationed now?

Like everybody these days I spend a lot of time behind a desk. Where I lay my laptop is my workplace. The city of Guangzhou is my backdrop and the capital city of Guangdong Province to boot. Daily dealings are dealt with in Cantonese which is different from the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong. Like any other city in this part of the world, the traffic is busy and Friday afternoon especially. Luckily the traffic congestion is relieved by an excellent system of metro lines. Speaking of public transport: GZ is only a train ride of two hours away from Kowloon Hong Kong. However, the border has been shut down since early 2020 due to the covid pandemic.

How do you enjoy your free time?

The city of Guangzhou is bustling with activities and good food. My pride and joy was a vintage motorcycle which I rode in Hong Kong quite a lot, unfortunately here in Guangzhou a motorcycle is not allowed. So now I spend my weekends hiking in the mountains, especially in the winter months in Guangzhou. Breathing in all that nature has to offer, recharging the mental batteries and finding beautiful sightings. That brings me to photography, another passion of mine. I like the whole process that involves taking a photo. The mechanics and technical aspects of using the camera to your advantage. The quality of a real picture on paper and the surprise of finding out how the pictures look. Even if they are not as expected.  

The question is not IF but how did Covid impact your work?

The first thing that comes to mind is travel. Between Hong Kong and mainland China travel was difficult at times to say the least. In 2020 I was still in Hong Kong and I couldn’t travel to mainland China at all. Being actively present for missions became impossible. The Hainan mission for instance was one I had to miss. The preparations I managed to do remotely and the physical preparations on site were done by colleagues there. Vice versa will happen for Hong Kong now with me being in GZ. An offline event will probably and unfortunately not happen until travel is resumed.

The Covid situation in China is handled in a decisive manner. This also means that sometimes announcements and decisions by the Chinese authorities can be made short notice in order to cater to real time events. Several outbreaks in Guangzhou and other cities did pose challenges and difficulties for events. One such difficulty was The Horti mission Fujian which was cancelled two weeks prior to the planned date. I try to mitigate as many obstacles as possible. Besides keeping my health code in check and being vaccinated, I underwent many nucleic acid amplification tests to meet the requirements for visiting or hosting events. All in all the second half of 2021 was more troublesome than earlier on this year.

Where do you think the most opportunities can be found for the NL Agri Business?

The fields of horticulture, starting material, pig farming, poultry farming, dairy farming, aquaculture and food processing, all harbor quite some potential for development and innovation. Developments in these sectors are influenced by lifestyle changes all around, consumption patterns, policies and how trade politics will be conducted. These factors are dynamic in nature. Also in China sustainability is getting more and more important. The Netherlands offers very useful solutions to improve sustainability and profitability  for the sectors I mentioned. This is why the Dutch agricultural technology is highly valued in China.

At this moment, 4 provinces in South China plus 2 Special Administrative Regions all combined constitute about 600,000 km2. The size and the variety present in economy, business development, infrastructure and policy decisions make it necessary to carefully analyze where the opportunities truly lie for the NL-Agro sector in each region of South China.

After relocating to Guangzhou I found that the horticulture in Guangdong and Hainan remains very active. This includes facilities, seed breeding, cold chain and logistics. Of course, it is a slightly incomplete picture because of Covid and the implemented measures. Last November the Horti mission in Fujian was cancelled. We hope that next year the Horti mission can continue and cover Fujian. A fact finding visit to Guangxi will hopefully find place next year which helps to evaluate the agricultural developments. All these missions help to find opportunities for the Netherlands.

What is going on with regard to sustainability and climate resilience?

I initiated the organization of a masterclass for policy makers in Guangdong. Here professors from Wageningen University (WUR) would tell us more about circular agriculture. Unfortunately this masterclass was cancelled.

The Study Group for Guangdong was planned for two lectures, one of them being the circular agriculture in the Netherlands. This was confirmed with the expert of RVO. Another lecture was the agro economy and marketing. The Guangdong official GDAD (Guangdong Agricultural Department) contact expressed the wish to receive valuable insights from the Netherlands regarding agro products marketing.

These two lectures are best enjoyed as a duo. Unfortunately WUR could not find a suitable moment for giving this lecture. Therefore I decided to postpone the whole lecture until we can enjoy them together. Next year is full of promising prospects!

The importance attached by the Guangdong authorities to sustainability and climate resilience also depends on policy decisions higher up. My take based upon prior months is that the current trend amongst officials is a bit more conservative than before. So I am aware of a more challenging future when it comes to implementing my plans and enhancing cooperation.

On a national level one can see the globally shared goal of carbon neutrality. The emphasis on energy, manufacturing and heavy industry remains a top priority together with the mechanization and large scale production.

What about the Guangdong Horticultural mission a few weeks ago?

A total of 19 companies signed in, unfortunately 2 companies had to forego due to Covid. Just like other roadshows we follow our recipe for success: matchmaking with local companies and field visits to interesting projects and therefore prospects. The high number of participating companies made us decide to give the seminar a different template. Keynote speeches and open discussions were held in the morning. From Guangdong 3 speakers arrived to share their experiences with the Dutch delegation. This whole seminar was a delight of cross pollination in knowledge, experiences and insights.

Everybody wanted to have a podium of course but decisions had to be made. When having such a large seminar with so many participants you have to delicately plan and dose the speaking time.

All companies are positive when it comes to these seminars, missions and meetings. It provides a platform of presenting what is essentially theirs. The established companies have their clientele here in GZ and the newcomers can develop a clientele here. After a while this world becomes smaller and smaller after all. Every time we meet becomes more familiar, I can honestly say it starts to feel like family!

A sneak preview: 50 years of bilateral relations with the flower event early next year

The Consulate General of Guangzhou is happy to participate in the yearly event Garden EXPO. It was planned during the Chinese New Year from 25 January to 15 February in 2022, but is postponed to mid March this year. As invited by the Guangzhou Forestry bureau. This will be the first time that the Dutch flower display will be made available for public visitors on such a large scale. The announcement seemed to coincide with the major upcoming theme of 50 years of bilateral relations with China. Guangzhou Forestry even added that the EXPO’s framework fits in the tradition of the Chinese New Year Celebrations in Guangzhou.

After Guangzhou other cities will follow, showcasing a reusable flower setup.  The display was designed with sustainability in mind. The whole display can be disassembled and transported for further usage. Dafeng garden will be its final destination.

As of now, the Consulate of Guangzhou is reviewing and negotiating the framework agreement with the Forestry bureau to participate in this event. We hope to seal the deal soon so we can continue with our schedule. Preparations for such a large scale and unique event demands quite a lot of all.

Luckily everybody lends a hand and we are all happy to be greeted with a rewarding sight of Dutch flowers.

Let’s hope it will be a successful example for the other cities later, I’d love to share some experiences and lessons learned with other colleagues.     

More information and contact

Agriculture team China
Twitter: @AgriBeijing

LinkedIn: Dutch Agriculture China