The UK's Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt today called on British businesses to form partnerships with Chinese companies, in order to benefit from the success of the world’s fastest-growing economy.
Ms Hewitt is leading a delegation of British business leaders and trade unions in Beijing today, seeking to deepen links with the Far Eastern giant.
Britain cannot hope to compete with China on labour costs, which are five times higher in the UK, said Ms Hewitt. Instead, its prospects depend on better design, innovation and quality.
Ms Hewitt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “British companies are doing well in China, but the opportunities are enormous and we need to do even better in future.
“We know that, as China grows and becomes one of the world’s leaders in manufacturing, that is going to be a huge challenge to a lot of British – and indeed other developed country manufacturers.
“The answer to that is for our manufacturers to become even more innovative, even more competitive and, where it works for both sides, to form joint ventures and partnerships with China’s innovative companies.
“Britain is the obvious jumping-off point for Chinese companies who want to expand in Europe and it is very good for British companies if they can partner with a Chinese company and then start entering this enormous Chinese market.”
The UK is already Europe’s biggest investor in China, particularly in the energy sector, but also on the high street, where companies like DIY superstore B&Q have made major inroads. B&Q now has its biggest superstore in Beijing.
There are also massive opportunities from the desire of Chinese people to learn to speak English in order to take part in the global market, said Ms Hewitt.
“We are seeing much more British investment in China. We are also seeing more and more Chinese people coming to Britain and British educational institutions in China to learn English and other things.
“We are one of the biggest exporters of education and learning so there are huge possibilities here and I am absolutely determined to make sure that Britain benefits from China’s enormous growth.”