Exporting to China: taking the right first steps
Exports Look beyond the media headlines and make informed business decisions.
China’s economy is changing dramatically but anyone who follows China closely will have expected this. Some traditionally strong sectors will struggle and there will be uncertainty. But new opportunities are emerging for the UK. UK exports to China have increased 108% in the last six years according to government figures. Trade in services now accounts for more than 50% of China’s annual GDP growth. China has been a net outbound investor for a few years with recent reports suggesting E35billion was invested in the EU in 2016, four times more than the opposite direction.
China’s rising living standards require better healthcare and education. An increasingly trendy middle-class craves great design and innovation to stand out from the crowd. Local manufacturers are looking around the world for high-tech partners to help them move up the value chain. This means that now, more than at any time in the past 40 years, China needs the goods and services at which the UK excels. So, how can UK companies benefit?
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. Would you only look at the combined GDP growth figures of the EU and US when considering whether to export to Belgium?
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. Emerging Chinese competition is making it harder in some sectors. IP is a still a very real issue. Protectionism is cited by many companies as increasingly a challenge. There are also bureaucratic differences to be navigated in taxation, customs and free trade zones, standards and beyond.
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 rather than occasional chatting and browsing platforms.
For any 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. Do your homework. Be clear about what you want to achieve in China. Talk to relevant organisations and peers who have connections in market. Go to China. Take on a Chinese employee or intern from the large numbers of Chinese students in the UK.
These are all ways to take the first step. 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.