HL Deb 27 January 1986 vol 470 cc431-3
Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the possibilities of the United Kingdom increasing its share of China's rapidly expanding foreign trade.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, China offers great opportunities for British companies which have technology relevant to China's economic needs. As an example, the companies who came on my first mission to China in March 1985 have since then concluded business agreements worth almost £500 million; but to achieve these successes has taken years of patient negotiation. I am sure that further opportunities which were identified during my March and my subsequent December missions will lead to substantial additional business in due course.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, may I ask him whether he has seen the report from The Times Peking correspondent dated 18th December 1985, which is complimentary to the achievements of his mission? However, with reference to a statement in that report, where it is agreed that experts should go out to China during the construction that will take place there, and in view of the excellent relations that exist between our country and China in various parts of the world of which I have personal knowledge—I was in the Far East in November—may I ask whether before our experts go there, it might be useful for them to have been apprised with some knowledge of the customs and culture of the Chinese people?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, comments flattering to the activities of Ministers of this Government are sufficiently rare to always come to notice. I was well aware of that notice in The Times. I hope very much that the contribution made by technology of this country is something which is contributing towards the needs of China.

So far as I am aware, our people who go out to China are fully apprised of Chinese customs and culture; and indeed the increasing amount of business that we are doing there bears testimony to that.

Lord Rhodes

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on what impact the newly appointed consul general in Shanghai has had? If the appointment has been a success, would he consider establishing another consul general in one of the large cities in Western China?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, yes. The establishment of the consul general in Shanghai was paralleled by the establishment of a consul general of the Chinese Government in Manchester. Shanghai is an important area for trade and is doing great work. I hope that in the fullness of time we shall see other activities, and other consul generals, established in China. It is important to realise at the moment that we have perhaps 2 per cent. of China's foreign trade. I hope very much that one day we shall have 5 per cent.—which is the figure we had in the early 'seventies. I think that then the Foreign Office will no doubt consider expanding our representation in China.

Lord MacLehose of Beoch

My Lords, would the Minister comment on the role of the United Kingdom trade commission in Hong Kong in furthering this trade, particularly with the special economic zones of South China? Would the Minister say whether he is satisfied that the China section of their commission is sufficiently staffed to meet its expanding requirements?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, there can be little doubt that in Hong Kong there exists a substantial body of people who know both the United Kingdom and China. Indeed, I have continually advised all those companies wishing to go to China that they should contemplate using Hong Kong as the gateway into China. In doing so, the activity of our trade commissioner in China is to be commended. It is—alas!—not for me to say whether the commission is adequately staffed; but for those who work there and those in this country who endeavour to trade there, I can say that up to now I have heard few complaints about the standard of service provided in Hong Kong and only causes for congratulation.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he would be good enough to let his right honourable friends know how helpful, in the absence of a British consul general in Canton, the American consul general's office in Canton is to British interests?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am afraid that I have no personal knowledge of the activities of the American consul general in Canton. In relative terms, Canton is not that far away from Hong Kong and many people from Hong Kong travel there and back continually. I hope that we shall indeed see a continuing expansion of our trade throughout all the 14 seaports of China which are now open to foreign trade, and through the many provinces of China.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is the noble Minister satisfied that we give as much time and attention to encouraging trade with China as we do in the case of Japan?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, in fact I suspect that we have vested more time in China than we have in Japan. Indeed, it is not for the Government to pick those areas of the world in which we should spend our time; it is for British industry and British commerce. The Government's job is to facilitate their inquiries. That, I am told by those in the know, the Government have done; and I pay tribute to the activities of our embassy in Peking for that reason.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in fact the Chinese, too, are showing great interest from their point of view in expanding trade with us? Is the Minister further aware that they intend taking over the whole of Poplar Dock—what was Poplar Dock in other days—and making it a trade centre for China, and that this is very much welcomed by those of us who have any idea of the importance of links with such a country?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, what we have all noticed since the historic accord on the future of Hong Kong, which was signed not that long ago, is the increasingly strong links between the most populous nation in the world and the United Kingdom. They are links which I hope will bode well for the economies of both our countries. Certainly on behalf of the Government we are doing all we can to propagate them.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, did the Minister really mean that British businessmen who go to China are fully apprised of Chinese customs and culture? If so, how do they have time to be businessmen?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, of course not. I just hope that British businessmen who go to China will make the effort, and I am sure they all do, to learn at least enough about the customs and the habits of our friends in China to ensure that they undertake successful business.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on this side of the House are appreciative of the more welcome future that he envisages for our trade with China, and will he also take on board our appreciation of his recent part in endeavouring to extend that trade? Will he give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will, at all times, take steps to ensure that the aid given to our foreign competitors in China by their own governments is at least matched by our own.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am indeed grateful for the expressions made by those opposite. So far as the second point is concerned, I am sure that the Government will do all that is necessary to ensure that we remain competitive. Indeed, as we see developments unfold over the months to come I am sure that even my friends opposite will be satisfied.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many British firms have been assisted in the way of soft loans in doing trade with China?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the facility for soft loans has been agreed with the Government of China. Very shortly, detailed discussions are to take place under which those who will benefit from this facility will be agreed by both governments. Until that happens, of course, no actual companies have benefited under soft loans agreements.

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