Britain accelerates in race to win Chinese billions

As F1 drivers take to the Shanghai circuit, UK trade ambassadors will woo the country's businesses. By Russell Lynch

British driver Lewis Hamilton won pole position for today's Shanghai Formula One Grand Prix, but away from the track his compatriots were attempting to put UK plc at the front of the grid.

It's one of the busiest weekends of the year for UKTI, Britain's trade and investment body, charged with pushing British businesses into China and capturing inward investment from the cash-rich nation.

As the likes of Jenson Button and Hamilton flash around the circuit at 200mph in front of more than 100,000 spectators, UKTI's consul-general, Brian Davidson, and ambassador, Sebastian Wood, will entertain more than 100 chief executives, politicians and business folk, plugging some of Britain's biggest names. It's all about getting Britain's nose in front in the "global race" oft cited by David Cameron. "We're doing nothing but pressing the flesh for three days," says Mr Davidson.

Shanghai's $450m (£293m) International Circuit – turned from swampland into an F1 racing circuit in just 18 months in 2003 – is a symbol of the stunningly rapid investment phase which fuelled China's breakneck growth in the past decade. But the exhibition outside the centre and the host of British brands on display are emblematic of the future of China's economy, with an emphasis on consumer spending. With China by far the world's fastest-growing luxury market, it is ripe with potential for British firms.

In between gawping at the grid girls, F1 fans – many of them big spenders – will see a host of British names, from the car makers Bentley, Morgan and Aston Martin, to high-end luxury brands like Savoir Beds, and the royal milliners Lock & Co. The interior designer Clive Christian – seller of the world's most expensive perfume, at £1,300 an ounce – is also on display to tempt those hunting the ultimate status symbol.

"Economic development in China is now moving in the direction of our strengths," Davidson adds.

It's not all about Shanghai luxury. To coincide with the F1 circus, UKTI has been pushing Britain's advanced engineering expertise at three events in smaller cities: Nanjing in Jiangsu province, Hefei in Anhui and Hangzhou in Zhejiang. These so-called "second tier" cities each have populations of more than five million and are growing at a faster rate than the major coastal hubs. HSBC, Standard Chartered, RSA and Willis are expanding in Nanjing as the high-speed rail link puts the financial centre of Shanghai within 90 minutes' journey time. "British firms need to be looking more closely at second-tier cities because there is double-digit growth," Davidson says.

He has also been in talks with Zong Qinghou (left) the head of the food and drinks giant Wahaha and China's richest man, worth $11.6bn. He is looking to invest in British technology and bring UK brands to his retail malls.

The UK is currently number two behind France in terms of inward investment from China, although Cameron made it a priority after his 2010 visit. The UKTI is closing the gap with the help of a £300m budget. "We started a long way back but are rapidly catching up," adds UKTI's head of trade, Clive Allcorn. Britain is around two-thirds of the way towards a target of increasing bilateral trade with China to £100bn by 2015.

Davidson is optimistic Britain can take the chequered flag in this global race for China's billions: "Everybody is here but by being proactive we can still steal a march on the others."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture