By Guy Dru Drury – CBI Chief Representative in China and Asia Trade
After the inauguration of President Joe Biden in Washington DC and a big global reset after four tumultuous years under the former Trump administration. The key focus now both for the US and the UK will be on the three ‘C’s – climate change, Covid and China.
President Biden has already gotten to work signing over 15 executive orders during his first day of office. The most significant of which was re-joining the Paris Agreement and putting climate change at the heart of his international agenda. Domestically, he set out legislation tackling the devastating pandemic that has already claimed more than 400,000 US lives and 2 million globally. And whilst there may not have been a specific focus on China during the first day of the new US administration rest assured that the third ‘C’ will be making its way up the agenda, and not just for the US but for Britain as well.
China is the UK’s 3rd largest goods partner (after the US & Germany) and the UK’s second largest source of imports with bilateral trade totalling around £80 Billion in 2020. And with UK-China links via goods trade, tourism and education supporting up to 129,000 jobs in the UK alone this vitally important business relationship will be crucial to the UK’s economic recovery.
Last year, the CBI set out its guiding principles for trade with China, namely arguing that engagement, not self-isolation and remaining clear-headed as to the challenges and opportunities of China, must remain central to the UK-China relationship. Crucial to this is the government taking a long-term approach to relations with China, while businesses should not compromise on their values, particularly on global standards, workers’ rights and environmental protections.
As the UK develops its own international trade policy for the first time in 40 years and seeks a new role as ‘Global Britain’ in a post-Brexit world, it has the opportunity to act as a unique connector. Its unrivalled international networks, permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and defender of global multilateralism, means Britain has the edge and ability to lead from the front.
As head of the G7 in early June and as host of COP26 in Glasgow later in the year, the UK is in unique position to bring the US, China and other global partners to the negotiating table and hopefully turn political ambitions into realities.
Yet whilst these global agreements are vital, it is important to remember that businesses are the backbone of domestic and international trade around the world. It is businesses trading and working with China underpinning this important economic relationship, and offering opportunities and solutions to global challenges like climate change. For instance, Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin Lagonda have been developing their next generation e-vehicles for the China market. Whereas, Coventry-based LEVC, a subsidiary of Hangzhou’s Geely Auto, has developed and manufactured its e-London cabs in a partnership going back more than 5 years.
These UK-China ties go far beyond the business realm as well and into academia. Universities in Birmingham, Warwick and Oxford are world leading academic institutions attracting the very best Chinese and international students whilst also developing research and development expertise in both countries.
Perhaps the most exciting areas of UK-China partnership lie in academic research with the UK leveraging its world leading R&D capabilities and expertise in offshore wind and tidal excellence. For example, a UK-China tech lab for offshore wind has just been established in Guangdong province, whilst another China-UK college won a China-Scotland Business Awards thanks to its academic partnerships with the University of Edinburgh and Shanghai’s Jiaotong University. Teams from both countries collaborated on research projects encompassing everything from sustainable construction and air quality to energy efficiency and smart cities.
UK academia will continue to lead efforts to find new low-carbon solutions to the needs of our economies. Just this year, a partnership between the private sector and the University of Birmingham led to the testing of the first hydrogen-powered train on a UK mainline. Maintaining and deepening these ties will remain vitally important not just for individuals and institutions but for our planet.
The global reset has just begun, and it’s through greater collaboration between business, science and government – whether in the US, UK or China – that will help us tackle these grand challenges and seize the opportunities in this new era of three C’s.