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Bright future for UK-China trade

By Cecily Liu | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2015-03-08 15:33

 Bright future for UK-China trade

Lord James Sassoon, chairman of the China Britain Business Council, says the United Kingdom is equipped to help China deal with its environmental problems. Cecily Liu / China Daily

Bilateral relations worth billions to both countries, says leading businessman

Trade and investment between the United Kingdom and China has had great successes in 2014 but more opportunities exist for the future, says Lord James Sassoon, chairman of the China Britain Business Council.

Sassoon says the CBBC focused its 2014 work on helping British companies adjust their business practices to "get fully comfortable with new policy developments in China". These developments include the focus on quality of economic growth for the long term, the importance of the rule of law, consumption and private sector growth.

"Our work is to ensure that UK businesses understand the advantages that they can gain from these policy developments," Sassoon says.

For example, Sassoon cites opportunities like the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Sassoon's team has created practical guides to help British firms understand the level of access they can have in China's services industries through the free trade zone, what they can do to further support the Chinese financial industry liberalize further, the extent of the Chinese middle income consumer opportunity and how to improve protection of intellectual property.

British successes this year include automotive giant Jaguar Land Rover, which has seen 2014 sales in China reach 122,010 new cars, a 28 percent year-on-year increase. Sales in China now represent over 30 percent of global sales at 381,108 total vehicles, up 9 percent year-on-year.

Another success is the British engineering consultancy Arup, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in the Chinese mainland in 2014. The company, which is famous for building the Jing'an Hilton Hotel in Shanghai in the early 1980s, has already completed about 800 projects in China.

New British investment in China announced in 2014 included the Jardine Group's $1.7 billion (1.52 billion euros) acquisitions of stakes in motor dealers Zhongsheng Group and in Yonghui Superstores.

Meanwhile, much of British-Chinese trade and investment is done through small and medium-sized firms. According to European Union Commission statistics, SMEs in gross volume terms constitute about 80 percent of growth in the UK economy.

Sassoon says that because many SMEs have fewer resources, CBBC has focused on helping them expand into China. CBBC's network of 13 offices across China with more than 100 staff is helpful in achieving this goal.

In particular, the Launchpad service provided by CBBC, which gives companies newly expanding into China an opportunity to use a temporary office and supporting infrastructure, is popular, with 54 firms currently using the service.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies have keenly expanded into the UK, through both organic expansion and acquisitions.

For example, Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei announced in 2012 that it would invest 1.3 billion pounds (1.79 billion euros) to grow its UK business over the next five years, and increase the number of employees to 1,500 by 2017.

As part of the process of deepening its roots in the UK, Huawei recently appointed Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, to become chairman of the Huawei UK board, which is a team of experts across different sectors that advise Huawei on how to do business the British way.

Sassoon says this shows Huawei's intention to "embed themselves in the country", a move that could inspire other Chinese firms.

Sassoon says that going forward the UK and China still have a great number of opportunities for cooperation, especially in financial services, creative industries, technology and infrastructure.

Two Chinese nuclear power companies are in advanced negotiations to invest in two planned reactors in the UK at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Led by France's EDF Group, the pair of reactors will cost 14 billion pounds.

China General Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corp are expected to have a combined 30 to 40 percent stake in the consortium, with France's Areva taking another 10 percent.

Another high profile project is the HS2, the UK's high-speed rail network plan that has attracted Chinese interest, although the bidding process for the project has yet to begin. The first phase of construction should last from 2017 to 2026. The first train services will run between London and Birmingham starting in 2026.

Sassoon says Chinese infrastructure companies have a great deal of operating experience, and would potentially be a good fit for the UK infrastructure sector.

"High-speed rail networks in China are far more extensive than what we have in the UK, and Chinese high-speed rail firms' entry into the UK market can provide opportunities for UK firms to work in partnerships with them," he says.

In the financial services area, London's offshore renminbi market is rapidly growing, helped by the appointment of a yuan clearing bank last year and recent regulatory changes that are enabling foreign banks to establish branches in London.

"London is the dominant center for the foreign exchange market in the world, including the dollar and the euro, and it is natural for renminbi business to gravitate to London as the renminbi becomes another major currency in the world," Sassoon says, adding this is because trading comes to where the deepest liquidity exists.

He hailed the regulatory changes to allow foreign banks to establish branches in London as a demonstration of the UK market's innovativeness and openness, and the flexibility of the country's regulations, which contributes to the London financial market's competitiveness.

Branches are offshore arms of foreign banks that have the lending and financing capability proportional to the parent company's balance sheets. Subsidiaries, in contrast, are subject to the strict capital requirements that apply to Britain's local banks.

Another milestone is the Chinese bank ICBC's $690 million purchase of a 60 percent stake in the South African lender's Standard Bank Plc, a move that will give ICBC great capability to trade in London's commodities markets.

"We have a leading Chinese bank in partnership with an African bank doing business out of London, which shows that the UK is a very open and accommodating launchpad for global business," Sassoon says.

He adds that the UK government's issuance of the first non-Chinese sovereign renminbi bond is a great demonstration of the UK government's commitment to developing London's renminbi businesses.

Sassoon was born in 1955, and was educated at Eton College and then the University of Oxford.

Sassoon began a career in finance at Thomson McLintock and Co in 1977, before joining S.G. Warburg and Co (which later became UBS Warburg) in 1985. He became a director in 1995, leading the firm's privatization business, and serving as vice-chairman of investment banking, from 2000 to 2002.

In 2002, he left the business sector and began his government and political career. He initially joined HM Treasury, becoming managing director of finance, regulation and industry, and subsequently served in a number of different roles.

In 2013, Sassoon left his role as commercial secretary to the Treasury, and then returned to the private sector. Sassoon became an executive director of Jardine Matheson Holdings and of Matheson and Co in January 2013. He also became the chairman of CBBC in 2013.

Sassoon first went to China 40 years ago, visiting Hong Kong immediately after he finished school, when he was traveling for three months with a friend across Southeast Asia.

He went to China 20 years later, visiting Beijing and Harbin, and it was then that he witnessed a trend of private sector expansion in China.

The physical landscape and architectural changes in China also struck him, especially the growth of the tall buildings in Shanghai's financial district. But with this infrastructural growth, China is also experiencing great environmental challenges.

Reflecting on these challenges, he says the UK has expertise to help China, because the country has gone through industrialization and once experienced the same environmental problems.

Sassoon's last trip to China took place in November, when he met with Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai to discuss how the two countries should take their bilateral business relationship forward.

Sassoon says he looks forward to more Chinese companies coming to invest in the UK, either to access its market or wider markets in Europe.

"At CBBC, our plans for the next three years are to dedicate more resources to helping Chinese businesses come to the UK, and use the UK as a base to access markets in Europe. Our time zone, position in Europe and legal system create a great business environment," he says.

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