About the China-Britain Business Council

The China-Britain Business Council helps British and Chinese businesses and organisations work together in China, the UK and third markets around the world. With 60 years of experience and experts in 11 UK offices and 15 Chinese locations, we operate alongside the British Chamber of Commerce in China to support companies of all sizes and sectors, whether they are new entrants or established operators, to realise the full potential of what remains one of the fastest-growing market in the world. 

As the partner of choice for British companies working with China, our diverse 1,000-strong membership includes some of the UK’s largest and most established companies, some of the UK’s most dynamic and innovative SMEs, as well as leading Chinese companies. We also work closely with cities and local enterprise partnerships to help them forge the links to drive local economic development.

Our unrivalled network of 130 staff across 26 locations understands the sectoral, geographical and cultural aspects of business success in China, as well as the key business issues that British companies face. This personal expertise is complemented by a range of CBBC research and consultative services tailored to meet the specific requirements of companies. Through an extensive calendar of over 250 events per year around the UK and China, we provide access to practical advice and valuable networking opportunities. Events range from our flagship China Outbound Conference and associated business programme, to industry-specific seminars, regional workshops, business clinics, tailored company events and webinars. We produce a definitive annual guide to doing business in China in addition to practical reports on key trends, industries and regions, including the major new ‘Belt and Road’ and ‘Made in China 2025’ initiatives.

We also promote the UK as one of the world’s most open economies and the best place for Chinese companies to invest and do business, and position British companies as ideal partners on the global stage.

We cooperate closely with the Department for International Trade, The Foreign & Commonwealth Office and across government to provide services to UK businesses in China. Our work with UK regions, LEPs and chambers of commerce highlights investment opportunities, including both projects and partners, to Chinese companies who are looking to invest abroad. We also work with partners in China to source export opportunities for British companies, and each week we welcome visiting government and business delegations of all levels to the UK.

As an independent organisation, CBBC offers trusted, impartial advice while maintaining close partnerships with the UK and Chinese Governments.

Advice and support for companies exporting to China

For UK businesses new to the China market, it can be very hard to know where to start. On the one hand, it is adding an economy the size of Switzerland to itself each year but some argue its economy is on a cliff edge. Innovation in China is increasingly more dynamic and globally impactful and yet China is often still regarded by business as a serious intellectual property (IP) risk.

Eye-watering figures numbering in the billions are regularly thrown about and make it hard to understand what is really happening in China and how UK companies of different sizes and sectors can get involved.

China’s Economy is changing

The massive 10%+ GDP growth figures through last 30 years were built on low-cost manufacturing for export and large-scale asset investment.

It is a common path for developing economies but eventually does need to transition, as we have seen in China’s near neighbours. Since the spring of 2013, the Chinese Government has talked about a New Normal – slower, more sustainable growth.

As a result of this shift, some traditionally strong sectors will struggle and there will be uncertainty, but new opportunities are blossoming. And now, more than ever before the UK has the kinds of products and services that China wants – in education, healthcare, professional services, creative and innovative design, advanced engineering – all of which suit the lifestyle of a new emerging middle class in China.

Looking beyond the news headlines

Bad news and dramatic headlines sell but business people must be more granular in how they look at the challenges and opportunities. China’s macro figures are trying to take into account an enormous and diverse economy.

Doing business successfully in China is about understanding the thirst for your goods and services on the ground. It also means understanding the local challenges. UK-China trade stands at about £60 billion annually; having increased 2.5 times in the last 10 years and opportunities will only increase.

What is also important to note is that in many areas China has leapfrogged traditional distribution channels. This is most relevant online. China is many steps ahead of the rest of the world in how the retail experience is integrated with smartphones, for example.

Social media platforms, such as WeChat and Taobao, have become life-partners for hundreds of millions of people, rather than occasional chatting and browsing platforms.

For any UK company, it is important to realise that China is different – not impossible. It most certainly has challenges for businesses and like all countries has its own political agenda, which does not always align with the status quo.

So where do I start?

It is important to do your homework. Be clear about what you want to achieve in China. Talk to relevant organisations like the CBBC and the Department for International Trade. They can support with advice and a range of services such as research, trade missions, support to attend trade fairs and more.

Look for other similar companies who already have connections in market. CBBC’s 1000+ members often work together to help each other avoid the common pitfalls when entering the market.

Business in China is done very differently to the west and misunderstandings often have as much to do with culture as language. There is a greater importance placed on relationships, showing proper respect, and avoiding conflict. Socialising is a big part of the process and Chinese business people will seek to build trust and rapport before moving forward with contracts.

Going to China and spending time with your partners to build these relationships is very important where possible.

Emerging Chinese competition is making it harder in some sectors but British goods and services are seen in a positive light in China and companies have succeeded across numerous sectors. When you have done your homework and are ready to really consider the market, avoid the low cost/high volume market. Domestic competition here is intense and foreign companies cannot compete on price alone.

Instead, differentiate yourself on your unique selling proposition, quality and know-how. It’s also important to be flexible and localise your products or services quickly. Businesses who assume their offering has the same appeal as in their home market are more likely to fail.

These are all ways to take the first step. It is not easy but it can be very rewarding when done right. Any company with an eye on international trade needs to consider ‘what does China mean for me now?’ You might not be ready, but at least think about it today.

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