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As Brexit looms, British companies look to China

By Morag Hobbs (People's Daily Online)    13:35, November 14, 2018

With Brexit talks ongoing, UK companies are still in a state of limbo about what Brexit will mean for trade with neighbouring EU countries. There’s no better time to establish trade links further afield, and China recently gave them such an opportunity, welcoming enterprises from all over the world to Shanghai to showcase their latest products at the China International Import Expo (CIIE).

Art Stavenka, co-founder of HyperVSN, talks to Peoples Daily Online in front of a hologram of Jinbao the CIIE mascot.

The UK already exports a myriad of products to China, representing a cross-section of British in-dustry and services, mostly machinery, electrical products and road vehicles. When it comes to what Chinese consumers know about Britain, the country is best known for its traditional elements, such as breakfast tea, the Queen and moustached men who have a knack for solving crime.

However, with a national pavilion themed on innovation, John Edwards, the British consul-general in Shanghai, explained that the CIIE was a chance for the UK to showcase itself as a player in high-tech and smart technology.

"CIIE is not a normal trade show; it is a celebration of China's 40 years of opening up. It is an amazing chance to highlight the things the UK has been working on with China in the areas of in-novation, creativity, AI, and Fin-tech," Edwards told Xinhua news before the event.

China, with the world’s largest population and fastest growing consumer market, represents a key market for British exports. According to China Daily, China imported goods worth 12.46 trillion yuan ($1.96 trillion) last year – an increase of 18.7 percent from 2016, making it an enormous draw for small countries such as the UK.

Ross McMahon at his CIIE booth.

In particular, UK-China trade reached a record 67.5 billion pounds ($89 billion) in 2017, a 15 percent increase from 2016. Moreover, British government statistics show that UK exports to China grew by 28.5 percent in 2017, reaching 22.3 billion pounds.

The above is good news for British companies such as HyperVSN, a London based company who used the CIIE as an opportunity to promote their new product, a small device that produces a ho-logram, seemingly out of thin air.

The CIIE marked the company’s second visit to China, and co-founder Art Stavenka was happy with the turnout. As dozens of onlookers excitedly pointed cameras in the direction of the holo-graphic display in front of them, Stavenka quipped that soon, people would talk of Sherlock Holmes and HyperVSN in the same breath when discussing the UK.

“The product is brand new, and despite that, it’s fast moving. We are in a very exciting stage at the moment. There are similar products on the market, but we believe we are years ahead of them, and hopefully, we’ll maintain those gaps for years to come.”

Founded six years ago in London, the company has a Research and Development centre in East-ern Europe and has already entered 70 countries, with partners and distributors in 50 countries “and counting,” added Stavenka.

Many British companies secured deals with Chinese counterparts during the CIIE, including Rolls-Royce, which signed an agreement worth 10.13 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) with China's Eastern Airlines, which ranked as one of the largest deals to come from the CIIE.

Ross McMahon, CEO of UK-based Kendal Nutricare, signed a 10-year MOU with Chinese based Orient International Holding Shanghai Foreign Trade Co., Ltd, explaining “It’s a big commitment by Orient International to work in the long term with us. It gives both companies a reason to invest and make long-term plans."

Ross McMahon says the British government are now paying more attention to China.

The CIIE wasn’t McMahon’s first time in China, and he explained that what keeps him coming back is the fact that the Chinese market has changed so much during his career. “For me as a busi-nessman coming to China over the last 20 years, I’ve seen the country change enormously; it’s got so modern. I’ve seen it change from bicycles to cars and now, at this show, I can already see CIIE is at a world standard.”

According to McMahon, China, a country with over 17 million babies born in 2017, offers an enormous market for his product, a full-cream milk baby formula. The CIIE was an opportunity to make the contacts necessary to push his company further in the Chinese market.

“It’s been a tremendous week in terms of getting to know better my partners here, to showcase to the world audience the quality of products and the range we have - all of our organic products from England. Both teams are getting to know each other better. I think the British government will invest more in doing business in China, just as China is very interested in British quality.”

Agreeing with McMahon, Stavenka explains that the Chinese market is one of the most attractive for enterprises in his sector. “The Chinese market is quite favourable for new technologies like ours. You won’t find that many markets that like the new tech, that like the visual appeal, who love the hologram sector; I’d say Japan, China and Korea to name a few.”

While the UK struggles to finalise a Brexit deal, many companies are concerned about its impact, but Kendal Nutricare isn’t one of them. “Domestically we sell in the UK, and after that our biggest markets are South East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, so we’re not that worried at all,” said McMahon. Stavenka, whose company has an R&D centre in Minsk, still hopes that Brexit won’t be finalised, but said even if it is, it won’t be a concern for their product, which is already being sold in many countries outside of the EU.

On whether the UK will be back for next year’s CIIE, it was a resounding yes from everyone asked. “We’ll be back next year. Each year we’ll have a bigger stand, and we’ll invite more guests. I think more of our international customers will start coming to Shanghai for CIIE next year... My custom-ers in Africa, the Middle East, and South America will travel here to meet us,” said McMahon.  

HyperVSN produces a hologram out of thin air.

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(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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