Waswanipi business leaders returned from a fact-finding mission to Hong Kong April 8-19 with some solid leads for developing the Cree economy.

Sam W. Gull, a key organizer on the trip who has already started his own import/export business with China, said the trip to the former British colony also gave participants an early look at many new and interesting electronic products.

“It depends on how far the current leadership wants to go, but the door is open for Crees to purchase solar or wind power products directly from China,” said Gull, who was on his fourth trip to the world’s most populous country.

Gull said there were three reasons for visiting the Asian country. The first was to meet and sign a softwood lumber deal between China’s Premier Company and Waswanipi’s Mishtuk Corporation.

The second was to meet with Rhinoceros Company, which specializes in garden tools and barbeques.

The third and perhaps most interesting was a visit to a large electronics trading show to scope out new products with the intent to import and sell locally.

“The return on our investment in China is much higher than the stocks and bonds,” said Gull. “No matter where you buy these products, the Chinese are key players in manufacturing them.”

The meeting with Rhinoceros Company fell through, but Premier Company looked at softwood samples and is hoping to finalize a partnership with Waswanipi in the coming months.

“This is only the introduction to trading with these companies,” he said. “Once the deal is closed, we’re hoping to invite them to visit the territory and the sawmill and possibly for them to invest in further developing value-added products within Waswanipi or China. If there is a partnership on that scale a new company will be created and Crees will sit on the board. This is one of the possibilities we’re looking at.”

As for the electronics show, Gull told the Nation that it was a smorgasbord of new technology.

“It is so big we couldn’t see all of it,” he said. “One interesting thing was a soybean. There’s a thing like a little microwave where you put it in and in 20 minutes you have soybean milk.”

They also discovered MP3 sunglasses that can play your favorite tunes, up to a gigabyte of memory, while you suntan.

“If you look at the Cree world there’s not much of an economy,” Gull said. “If we make these deals we’ll start to build an economy through exporting. Right now everything that we buy is imported. This means that we can have a prosperous economy if we’re exporting lumber or natural resources or arts and crafts, etc. This will be all new revenue coming in.”

Gull has personally started a mini-partnership with China’s Marble Watch Company. He imports MP3 watches and they have been selling fast locally, although he plans to kick it up a notch after goose break by adding logos on the watches and signing bigger deals with other companies.

As for the products they are looking to purchase that haven’t yet hit the North American market? “We call it re-exporting. For example if we import a t-shirt from China and it costs them $1. We bring it over here and it costs us $2. Then we sell it to a wholesaler for $5, who in turn will sell it to a distributor of some kind of clothing store for $15. We’ll be getting our share of the profit within the distribution system without actually manufacturing anything. The only thing we’ll be doing is marketing the product.”

The whole thing was made possible through Tulshi Sen Consulting, who have been dealing and trading with China for over 25 years. Without the consulting group, Gull said the trip would not be possible.

“Without their experience and expertise, we would not have been able to succeed,” said Gull. “If you don’t go to China, you can’t be involved in the global economy. Hong Kong is going to be the headquarters of the global economy.”

Romeo Saganash represented the Grand Council on the trip. If his report to the Council is positive, Crees could be dealing with the Chinese sooner rather than later.

“The other Cree communities are taking a wait-and-see approach,” Saganash said. “Once they see something happen, then they will participate. Waskaganish is trying to get something going with their arts and crafts, but they did not attend the latest trip. Waswanipi has taken a leadership position from the beginning and we’ll continue to do so. I think we see the opportunities and the possibilities with such trade.”