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Chinese company agrees to sell only Wis. ginseng

Kevin Wang, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- One of China's oldest and biggest medicine companies agreed Monday to sell only genuine Wisconsin ginseng at its 1,800 retail stores, an estimated $200 million deal that was finalized during Gov. Scott Walker's trade mission to the world's second-largest economy.

Under the agreement with the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, Tong Ren Tang Health Pharmaceutical — a 364-year-old Chinese pharmacy — will pay for trademark seals indicating that for the next decade the company is selling genuine Wisconsin ginseng at its stores in China.

All products will be purchased from the Ginseng and Herb Cooperative, a Wausau-based association representing Wisconsin ginseng producers.

Wisconsin produces more than 95 percent of the ginseng in the United States, and China is the biggest foreign importer. Many Chinese consumers know Wisconsin for its high-quality ginseng products as herbal medicine and gifts.

China's ginseng market was plagued with counterfeit products in the past, many of which were illegally labeled as Wisconsin imports.

The deal is a renewal of existing partnership between Wisconsin's which started in 2009. Only products sealed with an official trademark are now allowed to be sold at TRT stores.

Wisconsin's annual ginseng exports to China jumped from 30,000 pounds in 2006 to 200,000 pounds in 2011, thanks to lower tariffs and a crackdown on counterfeits.

Walker said the deal could bring up to $200 million in ginseng sales to Wisconsin over the next decade.

The deal was signed at the U.S. Embassy in China's capital city Beijing, as Walker leads a state delegation on the trade mission.

Walker and dozens of state's government and business representatives are visiting Beijing, Tianjin, Harbin and Shanghai during the 10-day trip.

The delegation arrived in Beijing on Saturday and had a cultural tour in the city over the weekend including visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Walker joined governors from Iowa and Virginia in meeting with U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke in Beijing, as well as high-level Chinese officials including newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Speaking on a conference call while travelling back to Beijing Monday night at local time in China, Walker said he believes healthy dialogues between U.S. and Chinese governments is key to sustain a good economic relationship. China is Wisconsin's largest export market for Wisconsin behind Canada and Mexico.

Walker's schedule throughout the week includes meeting with Chinese provincial governors, representatives from China's water and wood sectors, and visiting Wisconsin businesses operating in China.

Walker said Wisconsin's edge in clean energy technology is much needed in China's rapidly growing economy and could create more jobs in the state.

SmartBurn LLC, a Madison-based clean energy consulting firm, is negotiating with a Chinese energy company on expanding its business in Wisconsin.

Walker's trip to China is his first overseas trade mission. It comes on the heels of the visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry regarding ongoing tensions in nearby North Korea, as well as an outburst of bird flu cases the is sweeping across eastern China.

Walker said neither issue has changed or deterred his trip as he would leave the diplomatic matter to the federal government. He added he is confident his delegation has done adequate precautions to prevent bird flu infections.

Walker said his focus in mainly on building economic relationships and that the real work on the trade missions is done before and after the trip.

"The key is to follow up," he said. "We'll sign agreements, we'll have meetings, and the key is making sure we follow up with those afterward."