A look at post-Brexit business preparation with China

How time flies! It doesn’t seem so long ago that the referendum was upon us, and yet, here we are nearly ready to leave the EU. Well, ‘ready’ might be a strong word for it — one survey shows that less than a third of UK businesses have any type of contingency plan in place for a potential no-deal Brexit.

A no-deal Brexit would be less than ideal, but it is claimed that it would open the UK up to making trade deals elsewhere. It would not affect trade with countries outside the European Union, which is precisely what the UK seems to be planning for with its Prime Minister having recently visited China for talks.

But would China be as interested in a trade deal as the UK is? After all, in 2016, the UK imported £42.3bn worth of goods from China, but exported only £16.8bn to China in return. But then again, that’s not entirely proof that China wouldn’t increase its British exports demand if a trade deal was in place — the country is already hoping to widen its trade with The Belt and Road Initiative.

With the initiative, China hopes to build stronger trade ties across the world for all of Asia. The “belt” side of it roughly equates to the land connections it will build through railroads, and the “road” refers to a sea-route of trade. Essentially, China is building a new Silk Road,  and 71 countries are already part of the project, including Russia and New Zealand.

Business Insider UK, however, shows that UK officials aren’t unanimously convinced. Where Prime Minster Theresa May has not pledged support to the project that she feels isn’t a guaranteed success, Chancellor Phillip Hammond expressed his support of it.

Stances could naturally change as the UK’s relationship with China evolves. In fact, we have already enjoyed success in China before Brexit has even resolved. Back in April 2017, the first freight train from the UK to China left Essex as part of a pilot run for quicker shipping to China. Plus, at the start of 2018, during talks between the UK and China, the 20-year ban on British beef was lifted. The deal is purported to be worth £9bn to the UK. The worldwide ban of British beef exports was originally put in place by the EU in 1996, in fear of “mad cow disease”. It wasn’t until 2006 that the EU lifted the ban, but other countries chose to retain their ban on the product, including China.

What else does the UK have to offer China? What markets and UK businesses could, potentially, fare well with Chinese consumers? According the Telegraph, top British exports the Chinese enjoy are:

  • British cars
  • Burberry, and other designer labels
  • Scotch whisky
  • Scottish salmon

Businesses may be concerned that only big-name brands have a chance in the Chinese market, but this isn’t the case. The Creative Industries reported on the success of hairbrush and haircare brand Tangle Teezer over in China. Tangle Teezer’s International Managing Director, Gemma Clarke, confirmed in the article that China became its second biggest sales market in only 3 years trading there.

Tangle Teezer’s Chinese success is linked to a famous Chinese model purchasing the product and sharing pictures of it to her many social media followers. China loves its online shopping, so influencers should not be overlooked when planning to cater to the Chinese market.

The right product and the right approach can open up the Chinese market to many businesses. At the very least, firms need to plan for the eventual shake-up to the UK’s ties with the European market once Brexit comes into play, and time is running out to start building the foundations. This small window of golden opportunity has been highlighted by Rebecca De Cicco in regards to the UK’s construction industry in particular. The director of Digital Node outlined how 70% of buildings over 200 metres tall completed in 2017 were built in China, and so the country is increasingly interested in building information management software and crowd simulation. The use of British construction software has already proved its value to the Chinese construction sector in Beijing’s new airport, the Beijing Daxing International. Projected to see 45 million passengers a year, the airport’s construction has benefited from crowd simulation software provided by UK structure design software experts, Oasys. The software alerted the construction company and designers to any potential bottlenecks, congestion problems, or other inefficiencies.

The Business Magazine gave same great tips for companies looking to approach the Chinese market. As with any overseas market, the magazine advises companies to consider the culture of the country they are trading with; in this case, explore China’s culture. The general consensus is to be aware that what works in the UK may not work in China’s business ground, and as relationships can take a long time to build, jeopardising them with an ill-placed comment or miscommunication can slow that pace even further.


Businesses need to prepare for any outcome of any (or no) deal with the EU. Whether or not we retain trade deals with the EU, and to what to degree, the wider world is coming to the UK. Will it be a great opportunity for businesses, as some predict?

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