A trade delegation from Nottingham visited China with the aim of strengthening the city’s economic links with Ningbo. Gemma Toulson speaks to the businesses and officials who took part.
Nottingham firms were given the opportunity to forge stronger links with China when they took part in a trade delegation to the country. A 30-strong team from Nottingham went on the UK Trade and Investment and China-Britain Business Council-led trip.
Businesses and council officials spent a week in China engaged in a series of activities intended to move a long-standing civic relationship with Ningbo on to another level.
The mission concluded with the opening of a trade and investment office in the city and the signing of a memorandum of understanding which will lead to joint research projects in the fields of public health.
Nottingham is a sister city to Ningbo, the fifth biggest container port in the world, and the university of Nottingham opened the first fully-fledged foreign campus in the city more than a decade ago.
Simon Hall, business growth manager at Nottingham City Council, said the trip aimed to “strengthen and enhance” the long relationship that has existed between Ningbo and Nottingham over the last 10 years.
“The University of Nottingham campus has played a pivotal role in reinforcing that,” he said.
“But the engagement now is about so much more than the university campus, and this visit was particularly about moving it on from being a predominantly civic friendship to a relationship that took advantage of the commercial and economic opportunities that exist both for Nottingham companies in Ningbo and the wider China, and for Ningbo companies and investors in Nottingham – and to a degree the wider East Midlands.
“Trade and investment was very much at the heart of the visit. Although we spent the majority of the time in Ningbo, we also took the opportunity to visit Beijing and Shanghai. Jon Collins (leader of the city council) and Ian Curryer (the city council’s chief executive) had meetings at national governmental level in Beijing and with foreign and Commonwealth office officials and China Business Council officials in Shanghai.
“Some of that was about Nottingham as an exemplar for how to engage with China.
“We like to think that Nottingham is the UK’s most China friendly city and we were very much promoting the virtues of our relationship with Ningbo.”
Seven Nottingham firms joined the delegation, and Mr Hall said their involvement had been crucial.
“The engine room of the visit was very much the fact that we took with us seven Nottingham businesses in the conventional sense, as well as the East Midlands Chamber and Central College.
“Our view is that the businesses got value for the time and money they invested and from the individual businesses point of view, it was a major success.”
Speaking about what the city had gained from the trip, he added: “We’ve got a number of inward investment enquires that we will now progress.
“We also opened the Nottingham office in Ningbo, which is going to be based at the University of Nottingham campus. So Nottingham has now got a permanent trade and investment footprint in Ningbo.
“And we announced our soft landing package, which is a facility that we are offering foreign investors to give them a foothold in Nottingham.
“It offers free office accommodation for a small number of people, for a fixed period of time.
“This short-term offer will be offered in partnership with a number of local businesses. There was a high degree of interest in that.
“We also started to explore the possibilities of further trade visits in both directions. In the future that will possibly be in a more focussed basis, for instance we might run a life sciences based trade mission.”
East Midlands firms exported £940 million worth of goods and services to China in 2014, up from £546 million in 2010.
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the Government department driving the export agenda, supported the city council in organising and recruiting companies for the visit. It also provided support to those companies.
Deputy regional director for UKTI in the East Midlands Sarah Stevenson said: “It was a pleasure to be able to help and support East Midlands’ companies to make the most of this trip to China. China’s economy continues to grow at an enviable rate of six per cent and remains a key market for the UK. Indeed, exports from the East Midlands to China have grown by over 70 per cent in the last five years, with many varied business opportunities available for companies.”
Ian Curryer, chief executive of the city council, said: “I am really pleased that the businesses who took part in the trade delegation had a positive experience.
“This is the first trade mission we’ve lead to China and I am not only glad it met their needs, but that it is a positive platform to build on going forward.
“As the first UK trade mission to China following the Chinese President’s visit to the UK, what was really clear is there is now a real appetite to further develop trade and investment links between the two countries and as the UK’s most China-friendly city, there is a really opportunity for Nottingham businesses to seize on this and we will be leading further trade missions next year, following the establishment of our trade and investment office in Ningbo.
“Our mission follows Nottingham successfully hosting the largest UK/China city-to-city event yet in September, when more than 200 businesses from Britain and China attended the UK’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) China Forum, and likewise we and our business delegation were invited to take part in a special China-Britain trade and investment forum whilst in Ningbo.
“All in all the trade mission went well, and it bodes very well for the future trade and investment success of both cities and our business communities.”
DAVID Browning, managing director of MediCity, a hub for young health, wellbeing and beauty firms, went on the trip to support Nottingham City Council and to represent the healthcare and life sciences sector. He was also keen to explore for investment opportunities. “We have a number of companies in MediCity and BioCity with propositions that would be very relevant to China, so it was good to get an update on the regulatory situation, values and opportunities to get products out there.”
He said the trip helped to remove some of the barriers that firms could find in China without the support of local go.
“It provided an environment to do business,” he said.
“One of the challenges for a small company to engage with a partner in China is giving the reassurance that it’s able to grow and supply demand. Being part of the MediCity or BioCity communities is seen as an advantage.
“On behalf of our customers we were able to have an appropriate conversation at the right level to give some reassurance.”
FOR Rajnish Kumar, director of manufacturing firm Rockpecker Ltd, the potential in China is huge. His company manufactures and designs drill bits for the oil and gas and construction industries, and it’s just bought a new production plant at Lenton Lane Industrial Estate.
He said: “We had never tried the Chinese market, so I wanted to look at how we could explore that market for our purposes. There is an enormous potential for the products we make in China.” Mr Kumar said the company had also been keen to find a counterpart in the Chinese supply chain who could manufacture its products in China.
He added: “We have been trying to find ways and means for getting into the Chinese market.” Speaking about the benefits of being part of the trade delegation, he added: “I was able to interact with four different manufacturers throughout China, which could lead to partnership work. It opened a few doors, which will now be followed up by a forthcoming visit.”
DAVID Lister, managing director of creative marketing agency Spinning Clock, which provides video production, digital media and events and exhibition services, was keen to explore the opportunities for his firm in China.
“We already have a range of international clients, but none in China so we wanted to explore the market.
“We’ve grown a good market place in the States, in bioscience and health marketing so this was an opportunity to find out about China.
“We were looking for counterpart marketing agencies that want help with marketing their products and services in Europe. We have a thriving merchandise division in our business, so we were also looking at potentially establishing relationships with manufacturers.” He added: “This trip helps us to understand the market place and establish relationships.
“It definitely opened doors for us. We’ve got a range of options now that we can pursue.”
AAMIR Butt is chief executive officer of MediCity based firm Tumour Trace. He said taking part in the Nottingham trade delegation to China had enabled him to make contacts which could “accelerate market access to one of the largest markets on the planet by about two years”.
The company uses technology that is able to diagnose cancer to a high degree of accuracy. Mr Butt said the opportunities for his company in China were “immense”. He added: “Because our technology diagnoses cancer to a high degree of accuracy, it is a technology which is relevant across the world.
From that point of view, we can’t ignore China.” While on the trip, he was able to make contact with Chinese distributors of medical equipment – one of which may be able to fast track the company’s entry to the market.
“We were quite nervous before we went, because we are a start-up company and spending the money to go to China is a big thing.
Mr Butt said the trip had been “invaluable” for his business. “It was excellent,” he said.
DAVID Pearson, head of international trade at the East Midlands Chamber, joined the delegation to help open doors for members who want to forge trade links with China.
He said: “What we tried to get out of the trip was three-fold. One was to support Nottingham City Council. It was a great move on their part and we wanted to be there to represent businesses.
“The second was to support the businesses that were there, and the third was to create closer links with the chambers over there. We signed memorandum or understandings with two chambers: Ningbo Chamber and South West China Chamber to show the two organisations want to work together.
“We’ve done that to improve the chances of Nottingham businesses doing business in China.
“It’s about making it an easier process for them to do business in China.”
HERMAN Van Bellingen, director of web consultancy company V&C Web, is also the owner of a Taichi Centre in Ningbo, China, and was keen to explore opportunities for both of his businesses by joining Nottingham’s trade delegation to China.
Having already opened a business in Ningbo, he was building on his existing venture.
RICHARD Flisher, director at Lace Market based CPMG architects, was keen to build on the international opportunities already secured by his firm.
The Lace Market-based architects have been on an upward trajectory in recent years, and securing work in China would further its growth.
Mr Flisher said: “We’d been interested in China for a while and had been pursuing work out there as a means for growing the business, and having some more work here as well.”
The firm has already worked on a project to build a mountain top resort in China, but it’s keen to build on that further, and it’s about to recruit someone to represent the firm in China.
“We are actively pursuing work in China.
“We want to sustain and build upon what we are doing, so we have to look around to do that.
“The specific things we picked up while we were out there included possible opportunities in healthcare and leisure.”