Brian's Blogs

It must be hard working as a top UK trade official!

Whenever I'm in need of a top up of entertainment, I often turn to the UK's Daily Telegraph website and head for the City Diary. It often has a smattering of amusing stories tied in to what's going on in the world of finance.

So I'm grateful to them for highlighting an advertisement that appeared earlier this week, searching for someone for the newly created position of Director General of Trade and Investment for China, reporting directly to the UK Ambassador in China, as part of Prime Minister Cameron's drive to increase support to UK exporters and bring in more investment to the UK.

What I particularly find "amusing" is the way that UK Trade & Investment (as the old DTI now calls itself) has gone about attracting top talent from a limited pool of suitable people.

"Beijing is classified as a hardship post," it says, adding that employment opportunities for partners are limited. It also feels it necessary to describe Beijing's air quality as "improved, though still very poor sometimes." Hmmm, some hardship I have to say!

To sweeten the pill, they are offering a salary of £120,000 with benefits, which includes a Cost of Living Addition, Diplomatic Service Compensation Allowance, a flexible Travel Package and a Children's Education Allowance if appropriate. The successful candidate will also be provided with accommodation of course. And on top of that he or she will be given over 44 days of leave a year.

Oh, and if that isn't enough to tempt the wavering executives, it adds that travel within the city by taxi is cheap and easy and there is also extensive, low-cost public transport. (So he/she will not be given a car allowance or driver, then). Also, there is a great variety of restaurants, Chinese and international; good shopping and a vibrant cultural life. Wow! Who could resist?

According to the 2011 China Salary Development Report issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the average salary for executives in listed companies in Beijing has reached RMB668,000, compared with RMB291,000 in 2005, while the average annual salary of employees in urban enterprises increased to RMB42,452 in 2011.

So despite the "hardship posting", the new DG will still be quids in, I reckon. But I have to ask, if Beijing is described as a "hardship posting", what adjectives do they use for some of the other postings for which they advertise?

China is the world's second largest economy, and since 2007 it has been the UK's leading market outside Europe and the US. The UK, along with Germany, is also the EU's leading services exporter to China, but UK services exports to China are still only a quarter or so of overall UK exports. On the other hand, the UK vies with Germany as the leading European destination for Chinese investment into Europe, and Chinese investment into the UK is actually building quite fast.

But it is China's huge savings and its increasing interest in investment abroad that is the main carrot dangling in front of Cameron and his Chancellor – George Osborne. Together they are hoping to position London as the main RMB trading center in Europe and a springboard for Chinese enterprises seeking to globalize their operations and brands.

The British government sees deeper business engagement with China as central to its economic strategy; in fact China is the only overseas market designated a priority opportunity by UKTI for all fifteen of its designated sectors.

UK exports to China have also been growing rapidly as the two economies become more complementary to one another. But there is also considerable untapped potential for more creative trade and investment promotion work, as well as significant market and knowledge barriers to be addressed; and it is here too in which the new Director General will have a key role in giving a greater top level impetus.

It is said that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and other Cabinet members are all taking a close personal interest in the progress of our trade and investment relationship with China.

I'll bet they are … as will the heads of all the other states that are making China their number one priority in helping them bail out of the – in many cases – total mess that they have made of their economies.

Now almost everyone, it appears, wants China as their best friend. How times change!

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