I returned yesterday from my latest trade mission to Hong Kong, mainland China and South Korea, which I undertook with the aim of exploring business opportunities across Asia for Britain.
This is a crucial moment for the UK’s economic relationship with key overseas partners, in particular China, and expanding our economic ties in the most important growth market of the twenty-first century – Asia – is of the utmost importance.
Staying open for business post Brexit and remaining the European regional partner of choice were the key messages that I have been relaying to my hosts. The policy-makers and business leaders I met there are keen to have an update on our Brexit plans and the current financial climate in the City. I was glad to hear that many of them still see the UK as one of the best places in Europe in which to invest and do business, and the aim was to further economic cooperation in areas such as insurance, asset management, fintech and green finance.
It was also great for us to know more about development plans in this region, including the One Belt One Road initiative, China’s roadmap to re-construct the Silk Road and South East Asian maritime links via coordinated infrastructure financing and development. This can unlock untapped opportunities for British firms in Asian markets.
I am particularly excited about the opportunities for British companies which I heard about in Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, with their mayor expressing a desire for Tianjin to become a regional financial centre of excellence. The mayor also expressed interest in Chinese workers receiving training in the City.
During this trip, it was highlighted how important investing in education and training is to Asian businesses as they look to develop in the future. I was especially pleased to launch the search for the first Mansion House Scholar from South Korea while in Seoul. This will offer an exceptional South Korean student or young business executive the chance to study in the UK, fostering goodwill in the country.
I was also delighted to open the British Council’s 2017 Alumni Awards in Hong Kong, where outstanding graduates from British universities were honoured. In addition, I witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on financial education and training between the Department for International Trade and the Lujiazui Financial City Authority.
During my trip I had the chance to experience the remarkable bullet trains that cross China – it was certainly amazing to see the countryside flying by at 180 miles an hour. Infrastructure, advanced engineering, and green technology are all areas where the UK has world leading experience, and these industries are in increasingly high demand as the Asian economies continue to grow rapidly.
As the UK looks to begin the process of leaving the EU, and seeks to strengthen trade links across the world, I am more confident than ever following this visit to Asia that days of promise lie ahead.