Barbara Woodward, the new British Ambassador to China, says that the links between these two countries is now as important as the “special relationship” we have with the US.
That might surprise some people, but for those who have kept an eye on the growth of the Chinese economy – how could you have missed it? – the emergence of the Middle Kingdom as an economic powerhouse has been clear.
Ms Woodward has placed trade with China as her top priority, and its value of £60 billion to the UK economy tells us why. It is also, undoubtedly, one of the key reasons why the Duke of Cambridge visited China this month, alongside Japan, another country which places a high value on Brand Britain. Additionally, the Chancellor’s Budget announcement that the Government will double the UKTI’s resources to support export to China is welcome news and a reflection of the importance of the Chinese market.
According to Ms Woodward, Chinese visitors spend, on average, four times more than average tourists to Britain. Around 47% of those who visit the UK go to the Bicester Shopping Village in Oxfordshire, famous for top British brands such as Alexander McQueen, Barbour, Mulberry and Westwood. As a result of this popularity, two Bicester outlets are to open in China.
However, in the context of interest from China, Brand Britain spreads much further than fashion, or a love for the Royal Family. British innovation, products and service are sought after, and one only needs to spend a day in a good university town or city to see that our education system is valued as well.
Last year, we worked with the Provincial Government in Zhengzhou City to open our first purpose-built exhibition centre for the promotion of UK trade, and we are expecting to develop up to three more in key Chinese cities, including Changsha, this year.
This willingness to engage and collaborate at a high political level is another indicator of the attitude of China towards doing business with British companies.
Companies such as FIT-Infrared, a family-run company in Shildon, County Durham, which have taken their first steps into the Chinese market, have seen the potential and are working with us to realise the possible market growth. Having developed a large scale spray painting and curing plant for Cummins Engines Ltd, in Chonqching, they will be joining us for our second trade mission to China next month.
Their ambitions for the Chinese market include the development of portable systems to reduce heating costs in the country’s colder Northern regions. The system would help reduce the reliance on coal and provide an environmentally-friendly heating option.
It’s a long way from a Vivienne Westwood dress, but the British quality is nonetheless important to buyers in the Chinese market.
Richard Sice is Chief Executive Officer of MIC Exhibition and Trading Centre UK Ltd and Director Corporate Development at Fast Track China.