Speaking at the CBI’s Chinese New Year Dinner – an annual event bringing together senior business and political leaders from across the Sino-British community – the leader of Britain’s largest business group said the UK can and should enjoy growing trade with old and new partners alike. Although Brexit requires tough choices, this does not have to be one of them.
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said:
“As we leave the EU, we are rightly becoming more outward-looking, just as China continues to reform and open up its markets.
“Many people have claimed that we are at a junction – where we can either stay close to Europe or become a more global Britain. This is a false choice.
“The high value of trade deals signed by British companies on the Prime Minister’s mission to China earlier this month provides the evidence. In fact, being close to Europe supports a more global Britain.
“None of these deals require free trade agreements. We are able to get on with them now. At the same time, we can and must aim for the right deal on Brexit.
“It not a case of one or the other. We can and should seek both. And this year will provide some unique opportunities to do just that – to deepen our partnership with China while securing the best possible deal on Brexit, working together towards a global Britain and a global China.”
On the partnership between the UK and China, Carolyn said:
“When it comes to the partnership between the UK and China, the facts speak for themselves.
“Trade between the UK and China is at record levels. China is now the fourth largest importer into the UK. And as our first Sterling Assets report for China showed, the UK is well ahead of the curve in making the most of its relationship with the world’s fastest growing economy, with inroads into China’s lesser economically known regions.
“We’ve seen Chinese investment in everything from Black Cabs to Canary Wharf. And areas outside London are also reaping the benefits – just look at the West Midlands, a region exporting more goods to China than anywhere else in the UK.
“Last year, China accounted for 3.1 per cent of UK exports. But just imagine what we could do if the dial reached 6%. We have an opportunity to do this right now. To break down barriers, sell more goods and services, build more bridges between our countries.
“We see it when we look at the UK-China Visa Alliance, which makes it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK. We see it in our welcome to Chinese students – more come from China to our universities than from any other country in the world. And we see it in the formation of the UK-China CEO Council last month, a real breakthrough for British business.
“These partnerships mark the start of a new era in relations between Britain and China. Some have called it a golden era. Now we need some golden actions.”
On deals signed between Chinese and British firms, Carolyn said:
“Tonight, is not only about celebrating the more than £9 billion of commercial deals signed during the Prime Minister’s recent trip, it’s also about strengthening existing deals. Deals that build on our current relationships and deepen the partnership between our two countries.
“We talk about deals and we talk about billions of pounds, but what this really means is jobs. It means livelihoods – scientists at Astra Zeneca creating the AI software that’s revolutionizing the healthcare industry, small business owners making their first sales on JD.com, apprentices at Jaguar Land Rover building those car engines – and great careers – for the future.
“So, these deals not only strengthen our growing partnership – they change lives. They create jobs and prosperity in both our countries.
“It truly is a golden era for China. An era where it seems anything is possible.
“There is a saying in China, ‘Seize the day, seize the hour’. A saying that has never felt more appropriate. So, let’s seize this day and forge an even stronger partnership in this next decade of opportunity for both our countries.”