Brands hope CIIE can help attract interest amid Brexit uncertainties
Companies in the United Kingdom have embraced the inaugural China International Import Expo in an effort to hedge against uncertainties as the country prepares to leave the European Union, industry insiders say.
Major brands already established in China－such as Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley, British Airways and Standard Chartered－have taken the lead alongside small and medium-sized enterprises looking to test the waters in China for the first time.
"CIIE offers British firms a unique platform to connect with Chinese businesses, investors and consumers," UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, as head of the British delegation to the ongoing event in Shanghai.
For British companies, CIIE is an opportunity to "secure export orders and attract investment to help grow their businesses", he said.
Hundreds of British companies are represented at the expo, covering sectors including healthcare and life sciences, financial services, education, creative industries, consumer goods, food and agriculture, aviation and aerospace, automobiles, artificial intelligence and big data.
Luxury carmaker Bentley is displaying its $214,60 0 third-generation Continental GT before the model goes on sale next year, while AstraZeneca is showcasing a range of pharmaceutical products, and Kenwood is showing all-in-one kitchen appliances.
Many deals are expected, considering about 160 ,000 buyers from more than 60 ,000 companies have signed up for the event. Chinese retailer Suning, for instance, said it plans to import at least 1,000 products and services currently unavailable in China.
"CIIE reflects the Chinese government's determination and commitment to continue to further open up its market to the world, and to continue to forge relationships to build a successful and long-term international trade model," said Ken Murphy, executive vice-president of Walgreens Boots Alliance, which operates retail pharmacy, health and daily living stores across Europe and the United States.
UK companies' enthusiasm for CIIE coincides with a boom in UK-China trade. Bilateral trade hit $79 billion last year, up by 6.2 percent year-on-year. UK exports to China grew by 19.4 percent over the same period, reaching $22.31 billion, according to Chinese government statistics.
One driver is the UK's imminent departure from the EU, the so-called Brexit, which has prompted businesses to look further afield for global trade opportunities, according to Ed Ratcliffe, head of research and advisory at Asia House, a think tank in London.
"Brexit creates uncertainty both in terms of trade relations and market access to the EU trading bloc, where a lot of business is being done," he said. "This uncertainty is causing companies to look further abroad, which may accelerate UK-China trade relations."
Another driver is the growing complementarity between the UK and Chinese economies, added Matthew Rous, chief executive of the China-Britain Business Council.
"Over the past 60 to 40 years, we've seen the Chinese market significantly transformed," he said. "A large, wealthy middle class has emerged, creating demand for the best products globally. That's great news for the best of British brands, across sectors like fashion, food, healthcare and education.
"Furthermore, the rapid growth of China's e-commerce market is helping British brands to quickly access Chinese consumers without the need to invest in a physical China presence."
In 2015, China surpassed the US as the world's largest e-commerce market, with retail sales reaching $584 billion. So far this year, that figure stands at $1.5 trillion.
Many UK companies have already pocketed profits, such as Waitrose, Holland& Barrett, Cow& Gate, Ella's Kitchen, and Clarks.
Last year, Chinese e-commerce platform JD saw the number of UK brands selling on its site double from 2016.
In February, the company signed a deal with the UK government to sell 2 billion pounds ($2.59 billion) of UK goods to Chinese consumers in the next three years.
Consumer products aside, UK cutting-edge technology is in high demand as China makes a structural shift from a former manufacturing hub to a knowledge economy.
For this reason, the UK has made innovation the key theme of its pavilion at CIIE, to showcase many futuristic technologies.