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Trade secretary looks to new golden era of Sino-UK business

By Cecily Liu | | Updated: 2017-02-05 21:34

A senior British government official on Thursday said he welcomed the continued strengthening of UK China trade relations as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

The Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox said the UK was pleased to see how China had positively greeted its "new place in the world" since the EU referendum in June 2016, and that record levels of investment into the UK from China matched this sentiment.

Fox was speaking in London at a Chinese New Year Dinner hosted by the Confederation of British Industry, a British association representing 190,000 businesses.

In his speech he emphasized the importance of the UK and China's "golden era" against the backdrop of a Britain eager to champion free trade. His words came on the same day the UK government published an official policy document setting out its Brexit plans.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron originally coined the term "golden era" when Xi visited the UK in 2015.

The UK's Brexit policy document, or White Paper, included a desire by the UK to "forge ambitious free trade agreements with other countries across the world". One such potential free trade agreement could be with China, which British chancellor Philip Hammond proposed in July 2016 while attending the G20 finance ministers' meeting in Chengdu.

"China is the world's second largest economy, and one of the fastest-growing markets on earth; now, more than ever, China's future is all of our futures," said Fox.

The value of UK exports to China has grown by 108 percent between 2010 and 2016. China is the UK's third-largest export market, and the second-largest destination for UK investment, according to UK government figures.

Fox said he expected this growth to continue, adding his department is working to connect more British suppliers to China's major e-commerce platforms and establishing reliable distribution channels for instant online sales between the UK and China.

Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-general, said her team was proud that both China and the UK were both championing the benefits of free trade, at a time when challenges to globalization were evident.

"We welcome President Xi's remarks about committing ourselves to growing an open global economy, and we welcome Prime Minister Theresa May's ambition to deepen trade with old friends and new partners alike," said Fairbairn.

Fairbairn was referring to Xi's keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where he fiercely defended globalization.

Fairbairn said surging Chinese investment into the UK was increasingly evident.

"Step outside the door and you'll see Chinese investment everywhere you look."

In Warwickshire, a Chinese company, Geely, is preparing to produce the next generation of the famous black cabs. In Manchester, Beijing Construction Engineering Group has invested in an 800 million pound ($1,003) joint venture with British partners to build Airport City Manchester, a major infrastructure project set to create 16,000 jobs.

Fairbairn added that China's burgeoning middle class would be a big target of opportunity for Britain's service industry exports in the future.

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