The North of England has the potential to be the big success story of the ambition to redefine the UK as ‘Global Britain.’
The business communities of the North West, the North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber exported £2.7 billion worth of goods to China alone last year, dwarfing the efforts of London and the South.
As the country begins to take its first steps towards recovery from Covid-19 and life outside the EU, it is clear that the businesses of the North will be among its brightest stars – showcasing the best that the UK has to offer.
The recent decision by Nissan and Chinese battery manufacturer Envision to invest in a new electric vehicle and giant battery plant in Sunderland, for example, is a massive vote of confidence in all that the region has to offer, including its skills, openness and embrace of new technologies. This investment will bring 1,600 jobs to the region and secure 300 existing roles.
It is also an important signpost to where the North – and the rest of the country – needs to be looking for the business opportunities which will drive its prosperity, and in turn create the job opportunities for its people: the dynamic economies of the Asia Pacific, with China at its core.
The economies of Asia are on track to rebound faster than the UK’s traditional trade partners. While other parts of the UK economy struggled to adapt to the challenges brought by Covid-19, many businesses of the North of England got into gear and doubled-down on their longstanding partnerships in markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea.
From 2019 to 2020, exports from the North-East to China grew by nearly 50 per cent, while the North-West recorded growth just shy of 10%. And there’s still room for much more.
The scale of the opportunity for British businesses with China cannot be overstated.
Our free Northern Agenda daily newsletter looks at the political stories that really matter across the North. It features the analysis of award-winning MEN political editor Jennifer Williams and the team of local democracy reporters across the North West, plus informed insight from political journalists on our sister titles in Yorkshire, Humber and the North East.
To sign up, just click on this link, enter your email address and follow the instructions
China is now the strongest motor for global economic growth. According to the IMF, China is predicted to grow at 8.1 per cent this year. At that rate, this is the equivalent of adding an economy about the size of Spain’s to the global economy.
This is reflected in the UK’s trade with China, where it is now our third biggest goods’ trade partner, with UK goods’ exports to China reaching a value of £17.8 billion last year. And this is not just some abstract headline number. This translates into real business opportunities, and real jobs, right across the UK.
According to research commissioned by the China-Britain Business Council from Cambridge Econometrics, trade and investment ties with China support some 129,000 British jobs, including around 1,800 jobs in the North East, a further 5,000 across Yorkshire, and as many as 8,000 in the North West.
China’s strength in manufacturing is well known. What is less well known is the extraordinary growth in the Chinese consumer market.
As an example on ‘Singles’ Day’ last year (an online shopping festival geared to young consumers) total retail sales were more than USD 115 billion, and during the peak period, the number of orders were reported to be 583,000 per second.
UK high quality goods and services appeal to China’s wealthy and tech savvy middle-class consumers, including those that the North of England prides itself on: such as cars, beef, dairy products, innovative pharmaceuticals, and education services.
It is clear that the UK and China have their differences and it is right for the UK to speak up for its values. However, the UK cannot afford to isolate itself from China. Engagement has to be the way forward, because future British jobs and prosperity demand it.
No other major export market is growing as rapidly for the UK. From a business perspective, maintaining and expanding our economic ties with China is clearly massively in the UK’s economic self-interest.
CBBC is the UK’s national business networking supporting UK trade and investment with China.
We stand ready to help local business leaders and government officials to grow trade between China and the region even further, and to inspire world-class, innovative businesses to invest – putting the North of England in the best position to drive itself out of Covid-19 and to become a key part of a new, global Britain.
Andrew Seaton is the new chief executive of the China-Britain Business Council. The former Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, previously had a distinguished career as a diplomat, including roles as British Consul General in Hong Kong.