Home / NEWS / Why Britain is cosying up to China: Beef, plastic and free-trade

Why Britain is cosying up to China: Beef, plastic and free-trade

Theresa May arrives in China for a three-day visit on Wednesday where she is hoping to “intensify” the Golden Era of relations between the two countries.

The Prime Minister has promised “frank discussions” during the talks, but she is seeking concessions on a range of issues.

Trade 

British exports to China have increased by 60 percent since 2010 and totaling some $18bn in 2016 – or 4.4% of total UK exports. 

But there is a growing appetite in the UK for more access to a range of sectors, including agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

The largest ever business delegation – more than 50 business leaders – will join Mrs May on the trip, including chief executives of major exporters such as Jaguar Land Rover, AstraZeneca and BP.

“There are huge trade opportunities in China that we want to help British businesses take advantage of,” said Mrs May, ahead of her trip.

“That is why I’m taking a large multi-sector business delegation with me, representing all corners of the UK and sectors in which the UK excels.”

British officials will hope the visit results in a deepening of ties relating to the financial sector. 

Chancellor Phillip Hammond said in December that the two countries will speed up a London-Shanghai stock connect program, as well as a possible scheme to connect their bond markets.

British food producers are also hoping to gain more access to the Chinese market. 

French President Emmanuel Macron negotiated an end to a Chinese embargo on French beef when he visited China earlier this month.

A similar agreement for Britain could also help pave the way for British exports of lamb, poultry and fish.

Beijing started closing off its markets to all European and later US beef imports in the wake of the “mad cow” disease scare.

Cows feed on a farm in the Scottish Borders,

Credit:
PA

Post Brexit Britain

China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, wrote in The Telegraph that Mrs May’s visit – being made amid “critical” Brexit negotiations –  “offers the opportunity to shift the China-UK ‘Golden Era’ into a higher gear and upgrade bilateral relations”.

The goal for the UK after leaving the European Union is to establish a free trade agreement with China, along with other major world economies.

Officials will not be negotiating plans to set up an FTA plans during the visit.

However, the UK side will be hoping that by gradually opening up different Chinese sectors to British businesses, signing a free trade agreement with the world’s second biggest economy when the UK has left the EU would be a far simpler process.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is also joining the trip, is keen to focus on the potential opportunity provided by the Chinese market.

“Our relationship is now more important than ever, as we look to form new trading bonds with the biggest-growing markets around the world,” he said.

“Indeed, China’s middle class is expected to number 600 million by 2020 – greater than the current entire population of the EU – presenting unrivalled opportunities for UK business.”

Wang Yiwei, a professor at the School of International Studies of Renmin University in Beijing, said China would be open to signing a free trade agreement with the UK, as long it benefitted Beijing.

“A free trade agreement is definitely a possibly, if it boosted economic advantages between China and UK,” he said.

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox leaves 10 Downing Street,

Credit:
Reuters

Environment 

On the opening day of the trip Mrs May is expected to visit a project in the central city of Wuhan where she will see how China clears up plastic pollution from the Yangtze River.

Plastic pollution has become a huge global issue as concern rises over the levels of waste in the oceans.

China has struggled in the past to process mountains of rubbish produced by its booming economy and also imported from overseas.

However, Beijing recently issued strict new regulations which ban the import of plastic goods. The laws have caused a major headache for countries such as Britain, which exports huge amounts of waste.

While no specific plastic waste projects are understood to be on the negotiating table, China and the UK could use the talks to call for more global efforts to help protect the oceans.

Leaders may also reiterate their support for action on global warming – an issue where China has assumed a central role since Donald Trump said the United States was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement last year.

Doug Woodring, an entrepreneur and conservationist who lives in Hong Kong, looks at rubbish on May 07, 2009 on a beach on the south side of Hong Kong which has been left uncleaned.

Credit:
AFP

Security

Mrs May will meet Li Keqiang, the Chinese prime minister, on Wednesday, before holding talks with President Xi Jinping on Thursday. 

The leaders are expected to discuss North Korea, which has become a key issue as the global community seeks to confront Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

China became increasingly concerned with repeated missile tests from its neighbour last year, although it has faced criticism in some quarters for not doing enough to rein in its historic ally.

Officials from Britain, which along with China is a member of the UN Security Council, may discuss with their Chinese counterparts if UN sanctions that were imposed on the regime last year are having the desired effect and if additional measures are needed.

The situation in Burma may also be discussed.

North Korean leader kim Jong-un

Credit:
AFP

Human Rights 

Britain has in the past refrained from what has been called ‘megaphone diplomacy’ with human rights, with some critics accusing leaders of ignoring the issue in order to gain favourable trade deals from Beijing.

After four Hong Kong booksellers were abducted by Chinese agents in late 2015, British diplomats apparently demanded from China access to one of the men who was held captive, who held a British passport.

The last of the men to be held in custody, Swedish national Gui Minhai, was reportedly released but then held for a second time earlier this month.

Britain added its voice to a recent EU statement criticising that detention, however it is unclear if his plight will be raised during the talks.

Calls have also been made for Mrs May to raise concerns over the general erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, a former British colony which was handed back to China in 1997.

In a joint letter to Mrs May’s Downing Street office, Chris Patten and Paddy Ashdown said Hong Kong was facing “increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy” that were promised.

The letter urged Mrs May to continue insisting in “the principles of ‘one country, two systems”, which gives Hong Kong it’s semi-autonomous status form the mainland.

“We hope… that you will be able to provide the people of Hong Kong with some assurance that our developing relationship with China, vital though it is, will not come at the cost of our obligations to them,” the letter said.

British officials may reiterate that Britain has a ‘shared interest’ in Hong Kong, although Beijing has been tightening its political grip on the city in recent months.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/30/britain-cosying-china-beef-plastic-free-trade/

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