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Inside the UK-China trade mission: Day 2

The second morning of this historic trip starts off at a cracking pace with a very busy schedule ahead for us all. My first stop is an event sponsored by one of the ‘Big four’ accounting firms. 

Odd that none of the other three are here, but then it’s explained to me that if one firm is sponsoring then the other three stay away. So UKTI has to take it in turns with them. Such a cosy arrangement seems out of kilter in todays increasingly competitive business world…

Probably the biggest news of the morning is the PM’s announcement that visas will now be issued in one day in Shanghai. Colleagues at my new partner firm here are really surprised by this and regard it as a game changer in their perception of the UK as a place they want to do business. Its remarkable that this has been an issue for so long and that by and large we take the ease of international trips for granted.

Next on my agenda: my own mini treaty signing! We have just completed a partnership agreement with HFG China, a leading local Shanghai-based M&A house to help find Chinese buyers and investors for UK mid-sized companies.

The new Trade Minister, Lord Livingston attended the signing ceremony and told me he is still struggling to remember to sign himself as Livingston rather than Ian following his elevation. 

As he was doing so two former Lord Mayors of the City of London, Sir Michael Bear who helpfully lent me his pen – and Nick Anstee, arrived so there was a unique photo opportunity. Did I detect though a moment of disappointment in my Chinese partners when the words Mayor and London were not followed by Boris…

There was strong Chinese media interest in the partnership so I was quickly whisked away to do three press interviews, one TV, two print. The remarkable thing about media interviews in China is that they send you the questions in advance and then follow the script! I can’t imagine Jeremy Paxman being similarly obliging…

After the excitement of the media interviews a cup of tea is just what I needed and who best to turn to than Jonathan Jones, gardens director of Tregothnan, a branded tea business that is selling British tea to the Chinese! 

The leaves are grown in England and he must be one of the worlds best salesmen to do this. He has had an offer from a Chinese company to grow Chinese tea in Cornwall for them under licence! Never underestimate British ingenuity.

Following tea, then on to lunch for 800 in the splendour of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. The key exhibit was a new McLaren capable of 215 mph being proudly displayed by Ron Dennis, Executive Chairman of the McLaren Group. The star of War Horse also came around the tables to entertain a very impressive group of leading politicians diplomats and top businessmen.

I then pop in to Mr Harrys, the only authentic British restaurant in mainland China I am told. Mr Harrys serves 70 covers and full marks to another enterprising ex-pat Brit Harry Spencer for having a go. He is offering a full Xmas turkey lunch with all the trimmings if you are in China on the 25th

Lord Leigh of Hurley is a senior partner at Cavendish Corporate Finance.

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