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Trade visit to Shanghai and Beijing

Shanghai's impressive skylineChina was on the travel agenda again in March with a visit to Shanghai - China's biggest city pop. 20 million - and Beijing. Charles was part of an SCDI (Scottish Council for Development and Industry) trade delegation of 25 Scottish companies who were building business links with China.

The group included a mix of educational, manufacturing, financial services, tourism, IT, design and communications companies. Some were already doing business with China and wanted to cement their relationships; others were there for the first time researching the market and identifying opportunities. None left disappointed.

Charles was researching the communications challenges facing Scottish and UK companies trying to enter the Chinese market, with a view to offering them a range of specialist public relations, communications, marketing and business development services and support.

This article first appeared in the Scottish Chambers of Commerce magazine

"In this most capitalist of communist countries, private enterprise is king..."

The quiet hiss, flying sparks and deep blue glow of the welder’s torch blended with the clunking of steel and the unmistakeable whiff of grease to create the sights, sounds and smells so typical of an engineering workshop. It could have been anywhere in the world, but this wasn’t just anywhere.

This was a little piece of Scotland right in the heart of China’s biggest city, Shanghai. This was Clyde Bergemann – part of Jim McColl’s Clyde Blowers’ empire – and it was operating at full tilt to meet the demand from its ever-expanding Chinese customer base, not to mention a rush order for India.

We hear much about the desperate need for Scottish businesses to internationalise, but here was a classic example of it in operation - Scottish manufacturing expertise, allied with a skilled Chinese labour force, servicing not only the vast local market, but also exporting to competitor countries. Textbook stuff.

Little wonder Clyde Bergemann’s managing director, Adam Liu, seemed perpetually upbeat, having seen his operation grow to command a 60% share and become market leader in the supply of new power station equipment in this joint venture with one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs.

“We owe our success to the fact that Shanghai Clyde Bergemann deliver high quality products, provide good service, have good customer relations and offer reasonable prices,” said Adam.

In other words, they tick all the boxes. But the opportunities in China are not just reserved for major enterprises. Like this vast nation of 1.3 billion people, the potential for businesses of all sizes is enormous. Scottish SMEs with ambition, flair and the intellectual capital (as much as the cash variety) to invest, can reap rich rewards in a seemingly insatiable marketplace.

The Chinese government must keep its economy growing at a minimum of 8% a year to meet its aspirations. It has already taken 400 million people out of poverty since the mid-1980s and the burgeoning middle-classes in China’s major cities are creating a consumer boom the likes of which the world has never seen.

In this most capitalist of communist countries, private enterprise is king: and the good news is they need our business to keep the engines of the workshop of the world turning at full capacity. It is difficult to appreciate the nature of what’s happening in China until you go there, and nothing quite prepares you for the overwhelming scale of achievement in this economic powerhouse.

Everything – from the impossibly-large sweeping arc of Beijing’s magnificent international airport to the challenging skyscrapers of Shanghai and the world’s only operational 400kmph Maglev train – signals a confidence that says not only has China arrived, but it is now setting the benchmark for the rest of the world.

The market is indeed vast: the population of many of China’s major cities is bigger than Scotland’s – in some cases double the size or, in the case of Shanghai with 20 million people, four times its size. And the world is responding by beating a path to China’s door. Every major international brand is already established in the shopping malls and high streets. Even good old Marks & Spencer is in with the Chinese bricks. By happy co-incidence, or perhaps clever planning, the M&S building in Shanghai also houses the office of the British Chamber of Commerce with director Ian Crawford offering a warm welcome to fellow Chamber members.
He also spoke to the trade delegation of 25 companies of which I was part confirming that the range of opportunity was as huge as China itself. The Scottish firms represented included a mix of educational, manufacturing, financial services, tourism, IT, design and communications companies. Some were already doing business with China and wanted to cement their relationships; others were there for the first time researching the market and identifying opportunities. None left disappointed.

“The value about being part of a group is that it gives a lot of companies confidence,” said Jane Gotts, the events and trade projects manager for the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) who organised the trade visit to Shanghai and Hong Kong. “It helps opens doors that otherwise wouldn’t open if you were on your own. People can share their experience of doing business internationally which other group members find invaluable.”

“The group have all learned the value of face-to-face contact. There’s nothing more important than meeting customers on a one-to-one basis. China is such a sensitive market and you must be seen in the market regularly in order to build “guanxi” as people call it – building relationships and getting to know people – that’s essential.

“And these visits also provide access to support networks that exist out here, such as Scottish Development International (SDI), United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the China-Britain Business Council.”

And, of course, that British Chamber of Commerce office tucked inside Marks & Sparks!


Charles McGhee, a former editor of The Herald, now runs his own media consultancy. His clients include Xinhua in China, the world’s largest news agency, and he is currently working on a project aimed at helping Scottish companies overcome the communications challenges of working in an overseas environment. He can be contacted at: charles@mcgheemedia.com.

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