CBI: Chinese market is a big opportunity

Rhian Chilcott, international director of CBI, speaking to politics.co.uk, welcomes new trade deals with China:

"In a sense the deals are unsurprising because trade between the UK and China has been developing quite nicely over recent years; there was a 33% increase in UK exports to China in 2010. I think British companies have for some time been aware of the fact that we have historically missed opportunities in China that other countries have been quicker to see.

"We've been encouraging our companies to think about the Chinese market for some time. I think it's a useful indicator that the CBI has had an office in Beijing which is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. On a very immediate and personal level we've spent the last five years on the ground doing business and its gratifying to see that its working. With the high level political dialogue that's going on there will be yet more opportunities to come.

"From my experience of the way state visits are arranged you have to do an awful lot of leg work. These aren't deals which are literally discussed and signed in two days these will be things which were already in the pipeline. I think what's useful is pulling them together and highlighting them in such a high profile way. Hopefully that makes people think maybe we should be looking to the Chinese market.

"There were also some announcements which came out today which on a very technical and specific level will actually help more companies export to China, for example the agreements on services and taxation. There are some very technical reasons why there will be actual new market access as a result of today's announcement.

"The deals are things that companies have been working on for awhile but when you look at the totality of what's going on between the UK and China it's a really good news story. At a time when our traditional export markets are not growing that fast this is one of the places in the world where there's a real opportunity for growth.

"All of the companies we work with are very aware of the human rights climate in which they're doing business and they support a positive agenda for China respecting human rights. They make sure that within their own business practice they are following internationally globally accepted norms.

"I wouldn't want to see an utter distinction being drawn but there are conversations that are suitable to have at a government to government level and there are conversations that businesses have with other businesses and government."

"I thought Cameron did quite a good job of having both extremes of the conversation. We were pleased to see that there was such an emphasis on doing business and the amount of benefit that can be gained on both sides but we wouldn't like to see the human rights agenda dropped completely, you've got to have both conversations going simultaneously.

"I honestly believe that in order to have the sort of mutual respect and understanding that allows you to have the conversations in a parallel way one of the most useful contributing factors is a strong economic relationship. A strong business relationship relies on the two parties actually trusting and working with each other.

"From a business point of view there are clearly still big challenges involved in operating in the Chinese market, it's not an easy place to do business. There are some issues which are specific to doing business in China around market access to the government procurement market and intellectual property protection where companies operating in the Chinese market need to be aware that this is a difficult place.

"There are also an increasing number of business issues which are, so to speak, normal business issues, such as inflation, wage inflation in particular and skills shortages. We're glad that the UK government is putting a lot of emphasis on supporting companies as they move into the Chinese market.

"It's not for the faint hearted but it is a fast growing market, a huge area of opportunity and we would encourage everybody whether they are exporting goods or services to look at whether or not they should be involved in it."