Expert offers advice on doing business with China

Bob Anderson is a veteran when it comes to trade with China.

A former Everett mayor, Anderson went on to become Gov. Dixy Lee Ray’s trade and economic development director in the late 1970s and joined her on one of the first trade trips to China, in which Ray served as an ambassador for then-President Richard Nixon.

Anderson was the founding president of the state’s China Relations Council and remains on the organization’s board and executive committee.

I called him late last week to get his take on all the tainted products coming from China that we’re hearing about these days. Since so many people in Snohomish County have business ties with China or would like to establish them, I thought Anderson might be able to offer some advice.

I first asked Anderson to tell me about that early trip to China. He said the officials there were very cordial, but there was no question his every move was watched. There were no hotels, so he was placed in a building where government guards were posted out front.

“Nobody made us feel uncomfortable, but you certainly knew you were being watched,” Anderson said. “You’d walk down the streets and there were millions of people watching you.”

Sometimes, as the late sportscaster Howard Cosell used to say, it got up close and personal.

“One morning I wanted to go for a run and I got on the street and all these people gathered around me,” Anderson recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ But all they wanted to do was to look at my Nike running shoes. They’d never seen anything like that before. Now they make them.”

They pretty much make everything these days in what Anderson calls a “tremendous dynamic and cultural explosion.”

Anderson said he believes that China’s manufacturers are basically pretty solid, but that the economic explosive has attracted some greedy and unscrupulous people he calls “bad apples.”

“My general perception is that (deliberately tainted products) aren’t very pervasive,” he said. “But bad apples have spoiled this. Most Chinese entrepreneurs will say that they’re in this to make money.”

His advice for working with manufacturers in China:

Know your supplier and his suppliers. “There’s a lot of the wild West over there and you have to know who’s at your back when you’re walking down Main Street. You’ve got to know who you’re dealing with,” Anderson said.

Identify specific materials.

Learn the process. Who do they hire? What’s the plan for quality control and inspections? “You’ve got to be sure if got a manufacturer or distributor over there they’re doing it right,” Anderson said. “There’s been a lapse in inspections and quality control.”

Anderson knows that the Boeing Co. has a lot of parts made in China and also places a lot of restrictions, controls and inspections on that work.

Insist on looking at a finished product. “You have to ask them to show you how it’s going to turn out.”

While reports continue to stream in about tainted products from China, Anderson is sure the government will fix things and do it relatively soon, if only to try to repair its name before the 2008 Olympics.

“What’s happening is there is both a political and an economic tightening up over these issues,” he said. “I think the Chinese will be certain to make sure they will get their act together.”

That said, even Anderson admits to looking more carefully at what he buys lately and to trying find out more about it.

“It has to give you pause,” he said of the many recalls of Chinese products. “But it isn’t only China. This integrated global economy has other cracks and fissures, too. Whether you’re getting shrimp from China or cheese from France, it has to be buyer beware. Life is still somewhat of a gamble.”

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459;

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Jim Simpson leans on Blue Ray III, one of his designs, in his shop on Friday, August 25, 2023, in Clinton, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Whidbey Island master mechanic building dream car from “Speed Racer”

Jim Simpson, 68, of Clinton, is using his knowledge of sports cars to assemble his own Mach Five.

Inside the new Boeing 737 simulator at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo, Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
New Boeing 737 simulator takes ‘flight’ in Mukilteo

Pilots can test their flying skills or up their game at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.