Belfast Telegraph

China provides a huge market for Northern Ireland firms

The country provides a huge potential market for enterprising Northern Ireland companies as a conference in Belfast today finds out

By David Elliott

China could hold the key to driving Northern Ireland’s economy in the coming years.

Its booming economy and increasingly wealthy population are prime targets for exporters from these shores, who lag behind the rest of the UK when it comes to effectively targeting sales to the region.

At present, China accounts for 1.3% of all exports from Northern Ireland — said to be worth around £100m a year — while the UK average stands at 4.3%, according to the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC).

It’s a differential which leaves plenty of opportunity.

The biggest exports are animal hides to make leather, electronic control equipment and power generating equipment.

But there is huge scope for other products and services from here in the Chinese market.

For instance, Northern Ireland currently exports £186m a year in “beverages”, mostly alcoholic based, and £256m in pharmaceutical products to other parts of the world.

But China doesn’t represent a sizeable market for either sector.

And the CBBC says there are also huge opportunities for Northern Ireland aviation sector and food industry.

Dairy company Dale Farm already exports whey, a by-product of cheese, to China.

But the prospect of breaking into a market so far away, both geographically and in terms of culture, can be daunting for companies of any size.

To help break down the barrier and explore the practicalities of trade with the region, law firm Pinsent Masons and business advisors Grant Thornton are running a seminar in Belfast today in Queen’s University’s Riddell Hall.

Head of Pinsent Masons in Belfast, Paul McBride said the rich rewards lie for those willing to put the effort in to exploring the Chinese market.

“The First and Deputy First Ministers have just returned from China,” he said.

“There is now a possibility that Northern Ireland will establish a permanent Bureau in the country.

“The potential for increased trade between the two countries is very significant.”

Peter Legge, tax director at Grant Thornton, said there are already plenty of companies doing business with China.

“The opportunity available to Northern Ireland businesses is very exciting and we have a number of client companies who have successfully entered the Chinese market,” he said.

One of those is Belfast-based Richard Edwards.

He’s the executive vice chairman of Nottingham company Anpario, a company which manufactures natural additives for inclusion in animal feed.

The growing wealth of the Chinese population and its increasing demand for meat means he’s found a willing market for the company’s products.

Demand has also been helped by recent meat scares in China meaning Anpario’s natural additives, which replace antibiotic growth promoters, and help kill the likes of ecoli are desirable commodities.

To put the size of the market in China into perspective, he pointed out that one feed mill in China produces 80% of that produced by all the UK’s feed mills.

And one single pig producer in China has 300,000 sows.

This is compared to the 400,000 sows which make up the total UK herd.

Mr Edwards said there is one crucial aspect to consider before doing business in the region.

“The key thing in China is to gain trust from the people,” he said.

“In the west we tend to trust people from day one.

“In China there’s still an inherent lack of trust.

“That means doing a lot of dinners and rice wine.

“The theory is if you're |comfortable enough to drink with them then they will respect you.”

That trust extends to products, but because of widespread |counterfeiting by Chinese |companies, most UK-produced goods are held in high regard there and therefore price |shouldn’t be the main issue.

“If we sell on price we would devalue the product,” Mr Edwards added.

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