Whanganui company Vitapower has signed a distribution agreement with MP Agro - Japan's biggest animal product producer.

MP Agro has an annual turnover of ¥60 billion ($786 million) and employs more than 500 people throughout Japan. Vitapower employs 12 staff plus a handful of contractors.

Vitapower has more than 15 equine, small animal and agricultural products, with continuing research and development to create new markets and product applications.

It's not the local company's only access to the Japanese market, but possibly the most lucrative. The company says it also has business links forged from Whanganui's sister city relationship with Nagaizumi.

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The distribution agreement comes as latest economic forecasts point to the regions, not the main centres, driving growth in the foreseeable future.

"Most of the New Zealand economy's momentum over the next 18 months will come from provincial areas, thanks to strong export incomes," says Infometrics chief forecaster Gareth Kiernan.

Next month a city delegation will once again fly to Nagaizumi to shore up our sister relationship. The trips have sometimes unkindly been referred to a junkets - or paid holidays for those fortunate enough to be picked to go.

That's harsh. On Saturday, a special feature report on the city's various sister city relationships will appear in the Chronicle. Reporter John Maslin talks to those heading over next month and discovers, for one thing, a fair number are paying their own way.

Last December a report said analysis showed that sister city relationships produced no tangible economic gains. That too is harsh. Business does not happen automatically. It takes relationship building, palm pressing and time. Vitapower has benefited, others are certain to have also.

And then there are the non-business benefits. Cultural exchanges have a myriad of positive outcomes. Anyone who has taken part in the tea ceremony at the Bason Botanical Gardens will surely attest.