David Cameron has pledged to sign more than 40 business deals with China as part of his trade mission to the world’s second-largest economy, promising to “take Britain’s relationship with China to a new level”.
The contracts signed on the trip would be worth “billions of dollars”, he said, setting a new target of doubling the value of bilateral trade with China to more than $100bn (£62bn) a year by 2015. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the prime minister hoped that British exports would rise to $30bn by 2015.
Achieving this target would imply that the bilateral trade deficit with China will increase during the next five years from the level of £17bn in 2009.
But rather than signing deals for billions of pounds of high technology exports or green innovations, the first fruit of the “partnership for growth” to be fostered by this week’s heavyweight trade mission was the export of breeding pigs.
Vince Cable, business secretary, hailed the deal to export pigs to China as part of the coalition’s drive to prove Britain is “open for business”.
The agreement to allow live pig exports to China for the first time in three years is expected to bring new business of up to £45m during the next five years. China is home to half the world’s porcine population.
Mr Cable said: “This agreement gives a valuable boost to the British pig industry and is already delivering results.”
The business secretary, one of four cabinet ministers travelling with the prime minister to China, hopes to sign deals to close the UK’s yawning trade deficit with the country.
In addition to virile swine, a host of other small trade deals were signed by Mr Cable as he started three days of trade talks with his counterparts in Beijing.
These included coal-injection technology, licences for small-scale sewerage technology, service contracts to measure the carbon footprint of a Chinese city and a small urban design project.
“China is a huge opportunity for UK businesses and I would urge more companies to follow in their footsteps,” the business secretary said. “China is our ninth largest export market but it is the world’s second-largest economy, and the potential for expanding our partnership is huge.”
Britain has a very weak presence in fast-growing economies such as China.
While imports from China to the UK are a similar size to those from Ireland, the UK exports four times the value of goods and services to Ireland than to China. Although exports to China are growing at a faster percentage rate than imports, that deficit is rising rapidly because exports start at a very low base.
Larger deals are expected to be announced by the prime minister at his summit with Chinese leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, although it will be difficult to match the $20bn deal China agreed with France last week.