An impoverished small town has reached a world-leading business deal that could bring millions of dollars worth of Chinese money into its district.

A cornerstone of the businesses, which could create up to 900 jobs in a town of less than 10,000 people, is an unusual Chinese delicacy - sea cucumber.

John Forbes, mayor of Opotiki, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, led a delegation to China last month that met the vice-president of China's aquaculture industry lobby in the back of a black Mercedes.

Mr Forbes presides over what the Social Development Ministry designated as New Zealand's most deprived district.

His counterpart, Che Shi, is president of Shandong Oriental Oceans Group, one of the biggest players in seafood across the world.

Still, Mr Forbes stepped out of the limousine having secured an agreement in principle to millions of dollars of business.

Mr Che plans to open hundreds of premium seafood retail stores throughout China, and wants New Zealand greenshell mussels stocked in them.

He has indicated the stores could eventually take as much as 20,000 tonnes a year - two-thirds of New Zealand's current export total and worth more than $100 million.

The first shipment of mussels is expected to leave within the year, but Opotiki's mussel farm does not even exist yet.

Plans are under way to create a 3800ha mussel farm 6km off the town's coast, which would be the biggest marine farm in the Southern Hemisphere.

Its first lines will be dropped next month, but a harvest could still be two years away.

Until then, a Coromandel mussel farm will supply the new Chinese stores.

Mr Forbes and Mr Che also agreed to bring Chinese sea cucumber scientists to Opotiki to set up farms, with trials starting within six months.

The creatures are highly valued in China as a delicacy with medicinal properties, and a New Zealand species has been found to be virtually indistinguishable from the Chinese kind.

It grows abundantly in Opotiki's waters, where the season could last up to eight months against just three to four in China.

The projects are expected to create up to 900 jobs in a town that has few opportunities.

Bailey Jones, 18 and born and bred in Opotiki, has been on an unemployment benefit until today, when she starts a job cleaning at the RSA. Opportunities for her ex-classmates were few and far between, and many had got idle and fallen in with the wrong crowd, Miss Jones said.

"A lot of them have got pregnant or just sort of don't do much. I suppose there's actually not much here for the younger people."

Any opportunity would be a boost for Opotiki, because despite outside perceptions, it was still home and she felt most comfortable there, she said.

The Ministry of Social Development said it had almost 100 young people enrolled in Community Max and Job Ops initiatives in Opotiki.