The first China International Import Expo (CIIE) was held in Shanghai from Nov 5 to Nov 10. The UK is one of 12 nations of honor at the CIIE.
British firms are embracing the expo in the hope of hedging against possible uncertainties as the UK leaves the EU.
Hundreds of British firms showed at the expo, with sectors ranging from finance, technology, autos, aviation and aerospace to AI, big data, food and agricultural products. Well established British names, including Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover, Standard Chartered took the lead, along with SMEs attended the event, looking to test the waters in Chinese market.
“CIIE offers British firms a unique platform to connect with Chinese businesses, investors and consumers,” said British Trade Secretary Liam Fox, head of the British delegation.
Bentley displayed its third generation Continental GT (priced at $214,600 ) before the model hits the market next year. Astra Zeneca showcased a series of pharmaceutical products, and Kenwood, its all-in-one kitchen appliances.
About 160,000 buyers from over 80,000 companies have signed up for the event, and immediate deals were inked. Chinese retailer Suning said it intends to import at least 1,000 kinds of products and services. Hangzhou-based cross-border e-commerce JUMORE was reportedly sealed agreements with players in commodity trading from countries along the Belt and Road route, Africa and Latin America, who have rich natural resources and quality agricultural products.
British firms’ enthusiasm for the CIIE aligns with the booming bilateral trade between the UK and China. UK-China trade hit $79 billion in 2017, an increase of 6.2 percent year-on-year. British exports to China surged to $22.31 billion, a year-on-year increase of 19.4 percent.
One driver is Britain’s imminent divorce with the EU, which pushed British companies to look further for global business opportunities.
Another driver is the growing complementarities between Chinese and British economies, said Matthew Rous, chief executive of the business association China-Britain Business Council.
Over the past three to four decades, Chinese market had gone through significant transformation. The emergence of a large wealthy middle class creates new demands for the best products from the whole world, including British brands across sectors of education, fashion, food and healthcare, said Rous.
China surpassed the US to become the world’s largest e-commerce market in 2015, and the country’s e-commerce retail sales in the same year stood at $584 billion. The figure has soared to $1.5 trillion by 2018, almost tripled.
Many UK firms have pocketed profits in this boom, to name a few, Cow & Gate, Holland & Barret, and Clarks.
Aside from consumer goods, British sophisticated technology enjoys high demands in Chinese market, due to the reason that China has been making a structural transformation from a manufacturing hub to a knowledge economy.
For British companies, the CIIE means more than just trade in goods, services companies in the fields of banking, consulting and accounting also dispatched delegation to explore business potentials. Standard Chartered, HSBC and Santander all made appearance at the expo and promoted their solutions for trade, for example, cross-border supply chain financing, exchange risk management.
Though British firms are keen to grasp Chinese market, there is still a long way to go to tap their full potential. EU still remains the biggest export destination for the UK. China became the sixth-largest export market for the UK in 2017, however, exports the UK sent to China accounted for only 3.6 percent of its total, as figures from the UK government show.
The UK government is enhancing its support to expand exports to China and the Belt and Road market. The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, with the goal of advocating enhanced connectivity between Europe and Asia across sectors of trade, knowledge and infrastructure and so on.
The development of the Belt and Road Initiative will pose secondary opportunities in the fields of infrastructure, financial service, consumer goods and etc., all this brings trade opportunities for British firms to engage in, said Ed Ratcliffe, head of research and advisory at the London-based think tank Asia House.