UK government and business in push for China trade

Image caption, George Osborne is one of the ministers seeking to improve trade links

A UK government and trade mission to China is the "largest and most high powered" visit to the country from a UK delegation, Chancellor George Osborne has said.

On Tuesday Prime Minster David Cameron will join the trip designed to ramp up business with China.

The chancellor, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne have already held talks.

About 50 UK business leaders are also on the trip.

Mr Osborne told the BBC that this was not a new chapter in British relations with China.

But he said the country had reached a stage in its development where it was "more likely to want the things which Britain is good at".

These included financial services, insurance and luxury goods, he added.


As well as trying to boost business, Mr Cameron will also raise the issue of China's human rights record.

The visit is the prime minister's second major trip to an emerging economy since taking power.

It follows a high-profile visit to India in July.

Mr Cameron's office said he would challenge China on its human rights record, but was not specific about which subjects he would raise.

Mr Osborne said that discussions about human rights had been going on for many years but added it was "not the only thing we talk to the Chinese about".

"Our economic relationship is an incredibly important and strong one," he said.

Trade deals

Mr Cameron's coalition government has made broadening global trade links a priority, with particular emphasis on the fast-growing developing markets typified by China and India, both of whose economies are growing strongly.

Currently, exports to China, although growing fast, are relatively small compared with other markets. For example, the UK exports twice as much to the Irish Republic than to China.

The BBC's business editor, Robert Peston, points out that the trade gap with China is substantial.

"In 2009 we sold £8.7bn of tangibles and intangibles to China, and we bought three times as much, £25.8bn, from the Chinese," he says.

"Although over 10 years our sales of goods and services to China have increased by a seemingly healthy 4.6 times, imports have risen by a far greater multiple, 6.6 times."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said China had huge potential.

"There are about 15 business deals that the group are working their way through today, you know everything from coal gasification technology to architects to an auto-collaboration to work with Tesco and agreements between University College London and Chinese universities," he said.

Among those taking part in the visit are executives from companies including Rolls-Royce, Barclays and Diageo.

Some deals have already been announced.

The business secretary earlier signed an agreement that will allow the export of British breeding pigs to China, home to half of the world's pig population.

That deal - and future business stemming from the agreement - is valued at about £45m to the British pig industry over the next five years.

The Chinese and British authorities also reached a deal to ensure only whisky produced in Scotland will be marketed in China as Scotch, a move some estimate will increase sales by tens of millions of pounds.

Some of the other deals include:

  • three multi-million pound contracts with a fee value of more than £4m for London-based architects and designers Benoy
  • an agreement between Clyde Blowers and Yima Coal Industry Group to supply coal injection technology for three gasifiers - a deal worth £2m
  • machine maker Group Rhodes is signing a contract with Xinhang, a second-tier supplier to the Chinese aerospace industry, worth £1,850,000.

France has already secured £16bn worth of deals with China following a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao last week.

Robert Peston asked Vince Cable if the UK would get anything like that much business.

Mr Cable said he was not chasing any particular figure: "We're not trying to compete with the French to produce some big number that may or may not mean anything.

"I do know there are a lot of very productive investments from deals that are under discussion."

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