On a beautiful June day in 2016, a very special ceremony took place at the John Elliott Theatre. Mayor Rick Bonnette and Secretary Dao Ming of Wenjiang District signed a historic agreement that would establish friendly cooperative relations between Halton Hills and Wenjiang District, Chengdu City, in the People's Republic of China. In other words, the Town of Halton Hills and Wenjiang are now “sister cities”; separated by miles, but together in spirit of mutual respect, friendship and cooperation.
It is an agreement between two communities to promote cultural and commercial ties. Designed to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures, a “sister city” relationship encourages trade and tourism, as well as an opportunity to increase and form strategic international links between two communities. “Twinning” between cities became very popular after World War II as a means to strengthen bonds by encouraging a deeper understanding between cultures.
Located in southwest China, in Sichuan province, Wenjiang is one of nine districts that make up the larger City of Chengdu. The population of Chengdu is about 14 million. Chengdu is a key commercial centre in southwest China with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $200 billion and annual growth of 9%. Wenjiang District has a rich history dating back 4000 years with a population of about 600,000 people. Wenjiang is a thriving, diversified and modern community - leading in sustainable development, innovation, high-tech manufacturing, education, agriculture and tourism.
Top 10 Reasons Why Halton Hills has Partnered with Wenjiang, China:
A multi-faceted Action Plan approved by Town Council in 2016 will lead to community benefits. The Action Plan between Halton Hills and Wenjiang is focused on: (i) arts, culture and economic development; (ii) sustainability and energy conservation; (iii) business and economic investment; (vi) education and health care; and (v) tourism. The Action Plan was aligned with local, provincial and federal government priorities. For example, in his 2016 letter to the Town, Mr. Guy Saint-Jacques (Ambassador at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing) stated: "I am glad to note that Halton Hills is paying attention to China...such twinning agreements can lead to substantial benefits in the cultural, political, economic and trade areas."
The world's economy is more interconnected than ever. Halton Hills' partnership with Wenjiang is part of the Town's comprehensive economic development strategy. The partnership will help make Halton Hills more competitive in the global market, increase its international exposure and help make it a "top-of-mind" destination for investors.
China is the world's second largest economy.
Over $80 billion in trade takes place each year between Canada and China. China is Ontario's second-largest trading partner with over $40 billion in annual trade. The sister-city partnership provides Halton Hills with an opportunity to leverage this trade for local growth.
Provincial and federal governments are pursuing business opportunities with China.
Halton Hills can leverage this to benefit local businesses and their operations by acting as a "connector" between businesses here and in Wenjiang. In a November 2017 media release, the Halton Hills Chamber noted that a relationship with Wenjiang will " ...benefit local businesses by creating a smoother path to doing business with China by our local business and to attracting investment...and by strategically positioning Halton Hills to be ready for future tightening of trade cooperation between China and Canada...This will give our businesses an advantage when competing on the global stage...it is an economic development opportunity our members...cannot afford to neglect..."
Increasing the number of local businesses engaged in international trade is key to the region's long-term economic prosperity. Because of Canada's relatively small domestic market and heavy reliance on trade with the United States, the sister-city partnership is an opportunity to diversify the local economy. Speaking about the NAFTA negotiations and the new USMCA trade agreement, the President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said that Canada: "...must never again allow [itself] ourselves to be overly-dependent upon one trading partner [i.e. the United States]. We must continue to diversify our markets..."
Local businesses can be more competitive by leveraging the sister-city partnership. In November 2017, the Town of Halton Hills, in partnership with the Town of Oakville and Halton Region, held a sold-out event to provide business with information and tools for successfully accessing the Chinese market. Representatives of the Chinese Consulate in Toronto and Senator Victor Oh attended. In a 2016 letter to the Town, the Halton Hills Chamber of Commerce expressed its support for the twinning relationship, noting the need to grow exports and that "...export and trade are critical to the Canadian economy. Our members would benefit from exploring trade and investment opportunities and we feel that we can achieve this by strengthening export and tourism promotion services."
Numerous local businesses already have business connections with China, others are interested in exploring such opportunities.
These businesses are in the advanced manufacturing, food and beverage, agricultural, retail, tourism and education sectors. Combined, they support thousands of jobs and make a significant contribution to the economic prosperity and financial health of Halton Hills.
Wenjiang is part of the commercial centre of southwest China.
With a population of about 600,000 people, Wenjiang is part of the larger City of Chengdu – population 16 million. With a rapidly growing economy, Wenjiang offers an opportunity to explore and connect Halton Hills businesses with opportunities in Chengdu, Wenjiang and China. Business agreements have already been signed by SouthWestern Energy as well as by the Halton Hills Chamber of Commerce. A pilot project of innovative solar-powered technology has already been installed at Town Hall as a result of the former agreement.
Tourism is a major industry, supporting businesses and creating jobs. 2018 was designated the "Canada-China Year of Tourism". China is the third largest source of international tourists to Canada. Since 2010, the number of Chinese tourist to Canada has grown by an average of 20% annually with Chinese tourist spending about $1.5 billion in Canada. Halton Hills' partnership with Wenjiang is showcasing the Town to Chinese visitors and can increase local tourism spending to benefit local businesses.
The Halton Hills Festival will showcase Halton Hills on an international stage. Scheduled for April 2019 in Wenjiang, the Halton Hills Festival will showcase Halton Hills' natural heritage, arts and culture to position it as a prime destination for travel and investment. The Festival will also be a high-profile opportunity to showcase local businesses and artists to open doors to new market and business opportunities.
The catalyst for the partnership was the September 2015 delegation to China which included Mayor Rick Bonnette. As a result of that trade mission, relationships were established with many Chinese cities. In November 2015, the Town of Halton Hills hosted a delegation from Chengdu City, China. During this delegation, Ms. Tian Rong, Vice Mayor of Chengdu City invited the Mayor and a delegation from Halton Hills to visit Chengdu City and explore a twinning agreement.
This is the first time the Town of Halton Hills has signed an international agreement of this magnitude. The agreement between Halton Hills and Wenjiang District allows both communities to:
Promote friendly exchanges among their people;
Actively cooperate in the areas of economic development, investment promotion, renewable energy, low-carbon economy, sustainable development, environmental protection, culture and arts, tourism and education/knowledge-exchange;
Deepen the economic and trade contacts between Chambers of Commerce and enterprises in both communities; and
Work diligently to raise the quality of life for people in both communities.
This agreement and its areas of focus are directly aligned with the Town’s Strategic Action Plan. In addition, they also align closely with the priorities set out by the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada. This international agreement will pave the way for greater trade, improved prosperity and an enhanced quality of life for both communities
The next step has been to implement the Council-approved Action Plan. This long-term Plan will benefit Halton Hills and Wenjiang through 22 actionswhich are organized into five themes:
Arts, Culture and Economic Development
Sustainable Development and Energy Conservation
Business and Economic Investment
Education and Health Care
April 20, 2017 marked a key milestone in implementing the education focus of the Halton Hills-Wenjiang Action Plan. Attended by 650 students and teachers, a successful and energetic school assembly took place at Ethel Gardiner Public School (EGPS). Attendees enjoyed a presentation about the city of Wenjiang, and a video about their sister-school, Guanghua Experimental Primary School (GEPS) in Wenjiang. The assembly was the result of close collaboration between the Town, Halton District School Board, and a dedicated team of teachers and students at Ethel Gardiner. Over time, the sister-school partnership between Ethel Gardiner and Guanghua will be solidified with numerous actions. These actions include the signing of an official 'Sister-School Partnership Agreement’; collaborating on projects over social media; students being pen pals; and preparing and sharing videos on school life. Ethel Gardiner is Guanghua’s only sister school, and the only one in North America.
Guanghua is said to be the best primary school in Wenjiang. It is currently attended by 1400 students. When fully built, it will be attended by 3000 students. The school offers many modern facilities, including a TV studio, digital classrooms and dance studios.
The partnership between Ethel Gardiner and Guanghua will help build cultural awareness, share knowledge, and create lasting friendships between Halton Hills and Wenjiang.
Assisting Local Businesses
The Town’s Economic Development Office is reaching out to local business owners to determine who is already doing business in China and who is interested in growing their business through bilateral trade and investment. Staff will consider ways to help local small and medium businesses that may not have the resources or access to the Asian market. The Asian market offers a significant and exciting growth opportunity for the Town of Halton Hills. The November 2017 “Doing Business in China” Forum is one example of how Halton Hills Economic Development is assisting local firms to leverage business opportunities.
Making Cultural Connections
The first in a series of exciting cultural events to promote the Town's unique relationship with Wenjiang was an exhibit in January-February 2016. The Helson Gallery hosted an extraordinary photographic exhibit (program agenda), which documented the fascinating history of Canadian missionaries who lived in China between 1892 and 1952. This exhibit is a gift to Canadians from Chinese historians, artists and corporate donors. It recognizes and appreciates the many courageous Canadians who made Sichuan, China, their home over 100 years ago. These missionaries contributed to the medical and educational modernization in China.
Halton Hills’ Mayor Rick Bonnette officiated at the opening reception on January 14, 2017 which included over 150 guests from the Halton Hills community and beyond. Guest speakers Marion Walker and Kevin Best spoke of their familial links to the project, enthralling the audience with their poignant reminiscences of Chengdu, and of the legacy they work so strongly to maintain. Special guests Consuls Zishan Chen and Yi Ye were in attendance representing the People’s Republic of China and Consul Chen spoke in appreciation of the strong bond that connects Halton Hills with Chengdu (Wenjiang District). The exhibit was featured on OMNI Television, Cogeco Cable, The Independent Free Press and Georgetown On Magazine.
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Wenjiang Festival 2017
Halton Hills is well on its way in forming the necessary friendships and networks to assist our businesses in taking full advantage of the great economic development opportunities offered by China to our businesses, as well as opportunities that we can offer to businesses based in China that can invest into our region. By first signing a sister-city agreement with Wenjiang, and then hosting the Wenjiang Festival, Halton Hills is thinking and acting well beyond our boundaries to benefit both communities and both countries. The delegation from Wenjiang has returned to China with a deep understanding of Canadian culture, very fond memories and an experience of a lifetime. The government of Wenjiang will help us foster more and deeper relationships with their business community, and we will do the same for them.
Click on the thank-you banner below to see newly posted photos of the many wonderful moments of the Wenjiang Festival.