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Beijing can open more doors for 'global' UK

By Grenville Cross | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-12-31 09:11
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts after signing the Brexit trade deal with the EU at number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain on Dec 30, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

On Christmas Eve, the United Kingdom concluded its post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union. The deal, which will take effect on Friday, is worth £660 billion ($897 billion) a year-the biggest trade deal ever signed by either party.

It gives the UK what Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls a "Canada plus plus" arrangement, which incorporates the main features of the EU-Canada trade deal of 2016, but without any of the quotas or tariffs imposed on some Canadian goods.

The chief British negotiator, Lord David Frost, described the agreement as a "moment of national renewal". After 48 years inside the bloc, the UK will take back control of its laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries, and the legal jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will end.

While retaining free trade with the EU, the UK can also now pursue free trade agreements with other countries, of which there are already 61.Johnson has called for a "Global Britain", which is where China comes in.

The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research announced on Saturday that China will overtake the United States as the world's biggest economy by 2028, from which many will benefit.

China's Foreign Investment Law, which took effect on Jan 1 this year, provides new opportunities for foreign investors and more flexibility. Previously protected sectors are being opened up to foreign companies, greater protection is being provided for intellectual property rights, and less technology needs to be transferred to Chinese subsidiaries. By improving the management of foreign investment, the new law will create more certainty, which the EU fully understands, and the UK should not miss out.

Time waits for no one, and British businesses must take full advantage of China's increasingly open economy, and not be distracted by global tensions. On July 20, Johnson declared that the UK "will continue to engage with China", and he must now put his money-or at least that of his investors-where his mouth is. He should support British businesspeople as they adjust to life outside the EU Customs Union, and help them make a reality of his global aspirations.

After all, despite US opposition, the UK was the first G7 country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015, and also supported China's application to join the World Trade Organization in 2001. If they act now as they would want to, British companies can invest in areas like media and entertainment, education, and business services-all ripe for development.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce in China's latest survey involving 256 companies, 44 percent of the enterprises plan to grow their investment in China. Most are involved in professional services, advanced manufacturing and the transportation and education sectors, with most planning to invest more in Shanghai. While about half of them are looking to expand in Beijing, 13 percent intend to invest more in Hong Kong. However, they were worried about the UK's policy toward China, so Johnson must allay their concerns.

Closer Sino-British ties based on mutual respect are clearly the way forward, and the UK's trade with China has already increased dramatically. In 1999, China was the UK's 26th-largest export market and the 15th-largest source of imports, accounting for 0.7 percent of UK exports and 1.56 percent of UK imports. However, China had become the UK's sixth-largest export market last year, with its exports worth £30.7 billion, while UK imports from China were worth £49 billion, accounting for 7 percent of the UK's imported goods and services.

Moreover, China is keen to invest in the UK. In February, Grant Thornton's Tou Ying Tracker research confirmed the increasingly significant contributions that Chinese companies are making to the UK economy.

At the China Chamber of Commerce in the UK, John Edwards, the UK's trade commissioner for China, said on Nov 26 that Britain "welcomes Chinese investment". Having acknowledged that China's size and influence make it an important partner in tackling the biggest global challenges, he emphasized that the UK has "a policy of engagement with China and our approach will remain consistent, even if difficulties emerge".

Since the UK and China already have close business ties, an increase in two-way trade and investment will greatly benefit both, although an appropriate focus is vital.

The author is a senior counsel and law professor. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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