China can't trade with British 'snobs'

BRITISH exporters are snobbish, stubborn, litigious and neglect to build personal relationships with customers, a senior Chinese trade official alleged on the eve of Michael Heseltine's arrival in Peking yesterday at the head of a 150-strong commercial delegation.

"It's difficult to do business with the British," said Guo Hai Bin, chief representative of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade in London. "The British are a little bit snobbish. They think their goods are the best in the world."

He complained that Britons are stubborn about the manner in which negotiations are conducted. "In China, we like to meet. We give more importance to friendship and mutual trust. In Britain, people want to do business their own way. They only want to do business with a fax."

British companies are poor hosts, he claimed. "They don't want to meet Chinese delegations. If you don't want to meet people, then you don't want their business."

He said other Europeans were more willing to adopt Chinese customs: "They try to adapt themselves to the Chinese way." Britain lags behind Germany, Italy and France as a trading partner with China, although it leads them in direct investment.

The President of the Board of Trade's week-long visit is aimed at promoting trade and investment. Delegation members will announce several new contracts on Tuesday, but none of them are expected to be large.

Mr Guo praised companies like GEC and ICI that have spent time and money on making a success of their Chinese ventures. "They have a lot of business because they have offices in China," he said.

But he criticised other companies for demanding too much. "Their terms are very severe. They want to lower all our prices." British exporters tend to insist on immediate payment, which leads their Chinese counterparts to fear being cheated. The Chinese also think UK companies are too quick to sue if they are dissatisfied.

Many of Mr Guo's comments were backed by Richard Young, managing director of Anderson Young and Associates, a consultancy specialising in business in China. "If you want to be in China, there are rules and ways to get it right," he said. "The days are gone when Western companies could go into South-east Asia and say: 'Here's a wonderful product. Buy it.'"

Understanding Chinese concepts of status is important. "The Chinese like to see senior people. They don't like meeting some 25-year-old with the ink still wet on his MBA," he said.