It was an off-handed remark but one that spoke volumes about Guangdong's first International Consultative Conference that convened in Guangzhou earlier this month. As the province's new foreign economic advisers prepared to leave an opening morning reception, Guangdong Communist Party secretary Li Changchun prompted them to the rear of the room to stand for a group photograph. 'You can use the photograph to gain access to departments of government to help you with your business,' Mr Li said. The advisers chuckled but each knew there was more than a morsel of truth in his statement. The representatives in Guangdong's foreign brainstrust were chosen precisely because of their participation and future involvement in the province. Their companies ran the gamut of investment - from Royal Dutch/Shell Group, which is negotiating contracts to build a US$4.5 billion ethylene plant in Nanhai, to American International Group, which is the only foreign life insurance vendor to hold a licence in Guangzhou. Even the World Bank, which has loaned $1.3 billion to 20 projects in the province, was in attendance. It was hardly avoidable, then, that promotion passed for comment in some of the meetings. 'We are as eager as ever to expand our presence in the local province and we are more willing than ever to develop local partners,' said Alexander Rinnooy Kan, an executive board member of ING Group, which is hoping to obtain an insurance licence to sell life policies in Guangzhou. On whether he would raise the licence issue during meetings with local officials, Mr Rinnooy Kan said: 'We always raise the issue whenever we can because we need all the support we can get.' Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel, which has invested more than $60 million in a Guangdong mobile switching joint venture, was equally direct. 'We look at this in a really pragmatic way, as a vehicle to engage the government,' said Sonny Wu, president of Guangdong Nortel Telecommunications Equipment. 'We . . . haven't prepared charts and slides. We are commenting on exactly how our projects in Guangdong are doing, how we think we can do better with our partners and customers, and we are asking the government for more support.' Remarkably, the often less than subtle lobbying did little to undermine the serious and purposeful character of the gathering. Guangdong, by its own admission, is facing severe challenges that require a comprehensive structural re-think on how the province will maintain its vanguard position in the mainland's economic future. Among the themes sounded by Guangdong's foreign advisers was the province's position to embrace higher value-added forms of manufacture. 'Guangdong's stage of economic development is transformation from a period of dynamic and efficient manufacturing growth to that of becoming a higher value-added economy,' BP-Amoco economist Peter Davies said. Royal Dutch/Shell managing director Maarten Van Den Bergh said such a move required 'interface' between research and commercial development. It also means Guangdong must accommodate the entrepreneurship, creativity and drive that is characteristic of the province. Complementary to such economic growth, the advisers pointed out, was a transparent and accountable legal framework, particularly with respect to dispute settlements and property rights.