Skip to main content

China: United Kingdom Trade

Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 23 July 2014


Asked by

My Lords, trade with China is at record levels. The Government are committed to helping even more British companies to do business in China. We have invested significant additional resources into UK Trade & Investment and the China-Britain Business Council that will substantially increase the support available for British companies. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have all led large trade delegations to China.

I welcome the Minister’s reply. My question relates to visa applications. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, visited China recently, he vowed to address the visa difficulties confronting Chinese tourists, business employers and students wanting to come to Britain. Will my noble friend kindly update the House on what progress has been made to ameliorate these difficulties? Also, having visited Birmingham International’s extended runway yesterday, where he witnessed the inauguration of a direct flight from Birmingham to Beijing, will my noble friend welcome that extra airport capacity, and will he use his office to ensure that Chinese airlines use it?

The noble Lord raises an important question on the subject of visas and tourism. Tourism is our fourth-largest export earner. The number of UK visas issued to Chinese nationals continued to rise in 2013. We have issued 373,000 visas to Chinese tourists and have increased the number of students coming to the UK to the tune of 14%. We encourage Chinese students to come and study at our best universities in the UK. As regards airport capacity, which has been an issue for a long time in this House, yes, we do have a capacity issue with airlines, but I am pleased to say that I was able to receive the first chartered flight from Beijing to the regional airport in Birmingham yesterday morning.

My Lords, the Government recently announced that 60 new Foreign Office staff have been placed across China. Can the Minister give me an update on that? Hopefully, the numbers are increasing, the staff will be more widespread throughout China and increased language training will be part of the approach. Do the people involved have experience in business, particularly to help small businesses to trade within China?

My Lords, small businesses are the engine of the economy. I am pleased to say that we have a large number of people from UKTI now based in our Chinese embassy. English is an international language, but it is important that they all learn Mandarin as well. Language plays an important part in bridging the gap between us and the Chinese when it comes to trade. I am pleased to say that UKTI is proactive. In fact, one of our embassies that I visited, which was a diplomatic centre, has become more of a business centre, too. Embassies play an important role in enhancing trade, both in China and in other emerging markets.

My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?

My Lords, human rights are a major concern for this House. In fact, there was a Question on human rights earlier today in relation to Uganda, which is the country of my origin. We take human rights very seriously, but to address them we must quite often cement our relationships with countries by having more trade. I am pleased to say that we raise this issue every time our Ministers meet their counterparts in China—my right honourable friend, Hugo Swire, did so during his trip to China in May, and the former Foreign Secretary did the same thing in February. Our concerns are publicly outlined in our annual human rights report, which was published on 10 April 2014.

My Lords, there is concern that the new UKTI China initiative is marked by a number of features: a large amount of public relations; considerable new expenditure; an astonishing paucity of Mandarin speakers among the new recruits; and a focus on what is called internal reorganisation rather than business getting. Can the Minister identify, aside from the usual aspirational platitudes, what measurable targets are going to exist for UKTI and all the new expenditure in terms of the benefits to UK business?

My Lords, extra resources given to UKTI by the Chancellor will help UK companies to enter the Chinese market to win business. Jaguar Land Rover is a classic example and is benefiting hugely from the demand from China. UKTI plays an important role in engaging Chinese business with UK businesses. At the same time, it is also promoting “Exporting is GREAT”, and that is working very well. Soon we will see the benefits; indeed, we already see the benefits, as bilateral trade between the UK and China is to the tune of £75 billion. The growth rate of the exports is much higher than that of our imports.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will correct me, but am I right in saying that the Intellectual Property Office has sent out Mandarin-speaking ambassadors from this country to protect the intellectual property rights of people with small and medium-sized businesses who go to China? I understand that they are working extremely well and that the project has been an enormous success.

The noble Baroness has made an important point. We are addressing the issue of intellectual property and we now have legislation in place. We are asking our Chinese counterparts to comply with our regulations on intellectual property.

Can the noble Lord tell the House how many additional flights from Heathrow to China have been introduced since this Government came to power?