His first stop was Shanghai and he’s also going on to Nanjing and Beijing.
Tuesday 22 May
A visit to Renmin university was our first stop of the day. We had a very lively debate with a group of academics about rural reform in China and how China can learn from the UK’s experience of modernisation of agriculture.
Later we sampled some of the British imports available in China in a British gastro restaurant, where I hosted a meeting of international agricultural attaches. We discussed the common challenges our countries face and where we can best work together.
A tour around a Tesco supermarket in the afternoon offered an interesting insight into a UK retailer with a different approach in China. In comparison to the Marks and Spencer store I visited in Shanghai, Tesco have decided to provide Chinese goods in their shops, though I was told they are planning to expand the number of imported British products available in their stores.
The day, and the entire visit, concluded with a dinner with UK companies that have operations here in China.
Overall, the trip has confirmed to me that there are fantastic opportunities here for UK business in the farming, food and drink sector. The meat and breeding sector has a key role to play as Chinese consumers rapidly increase the amount of meat in their diets. Similarly, there are changing tastes amongst consumers which mean they are keen to buy luxury goods. And there’s a huge opportunity here for the dairy industry.
However, there are also challenges, such as helping China with food safety and modernising their agricultural system. Not to mention the challenges on our side as well - like increasing our exports to meet a growing demand.
The UK has great expertise in these areas and I will be encouraging both Defra and the industry to further cooperate with their Chinese counterparts.
Monday 21 May
With a full day ahead of us, we began the morning with a breakfast briefing at the Ambassador’s residence. It was great to have an insight from the Ambassador on the current situation in China and members of the trade mission were able to tell him about their experiences of dealing with China on agricultural issues.
We then visited Sanyuan dairy farm and processing plant on the outskirts of Beijing. I was struck by the fact that, as the Chinese begin to consume more dairy products, the opportunity for the UK to assist China is huge - with technology and genetics for their genetic industry, as well as exporting dairy products to help meet a growing demand for these goods.
This afternoon saw a long and productive meeting with vice minister Niu Dun from the Ministry of Agriculture. We discussed areas where the UK and China can increase cooperation including in research and development and animal husbandry, poultry breeding and processing of livestock and dairy products. Not to mention the opportunity to export horses for both sport and leisure purposes.
The Ministry also indicated their interest in signing a Memorandum of Understanding on food security - it could mean closer working together on the issue in future.
This evening saw some media interviews with local press, followed by a reception at the British Embassy. This was an opportunity to bring together UK exporting companies with their Chinese counterparts and the chance to reflect with these companies on how the trade mission has gone so far.
Sunday 20 May
Three cities in three days. Today was my first full day in Beijing. It’s the capital of this huge country and the powerhouse behind the country’s rapidly growing economy.
This morning we visited the Associated British Nutrition and Agriproducts (ABNA) feed Mill in Tianjin. ANBA is a good example of a British company that is not only successful financially but is also contributing to China’s agricultural development. By working closely with the Chinese Government they are helping to improve food safety standards, a key issue in a country which is conscious of the risks of contamination. The mill itself was well-run, though on a smaller scale to those you would find in the UK.
Later I went to the temple of heaven in Beijing. It’s a world heritage site and where the Chinese go to pray for a good harvest. Despite the crowds of people, I enjoyed the picturesque setting and it was an opportunity to soak up the Chinese culture surrounded by exquisite buildings that were once visited by emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasty. One of these was the great hall of prayers for good harvests!
This evening I will be having an informal dinner with the English Beef and Lamb Executive and British Pig Executive delegation. No doubt meat will both be on the menu and the main topic of conversation!
Saturday 19 May
Although it’s day two of the China Animal Husbandry show, today was actually the official opening ceremony. It was an intriguing ceremony and I was asked to give a speech to those who had come to the show looking for the kinds of farm products and services the UK produces so well.
In my speech, I spoke of the UK’s strength in pig breeding, and also our high quality meat. Having succeeded in opening the market to pigmeat, I stressed that the UK now hoped to work towards the same for our beef and lamb.
I later met with the head of the China Animal Husbandry group - the biggest importer of breeding stock in China. We spoke of opportunities to increase cooperation between the UK and China on breeding stock and agricultural technology.
After spending more time promoting British businesses at the show we headed for the bullet train to Beijing. It’s an amazing feat of engineering taking just a few hours to travel nearly 600 miles!
Tomorrow I’m off to see ABNA, another British business. ABNA is part of AB Agri and produces feed for cows and sheep. I’m looking forward to finding out more about their operation and the opportunities for expansion in this kind of market in China.
As for this evening, it’s a night off to catch our breath before another busy day tomorrow.
Friday 18 May
I’m pleased to announce the UK economy will be £50 million a year better off thanks to a trade deal secured by the Government on exporting pork meat to China. It’s a landmark agreement, one that’s been several years in the making and will really help boost the UK’s economic recovery.
First stop this morning was to visit a meat processing plant in Nanjing . Yurun is one of the leading meat processors in China and I was impressed by the scale of its operation and with the quality of the food safety and hygiene demonstrated there. They have ambitious plans of how to expand their business and I hope that the UK will have a role to play in these.
I then went to the China animal husbandry show in Nanjing. It’s one of the biggest of its kind and a key place for businesses wanting to sell farming products, technologies and of course British pig breeding stock. Amongst the busy crowds and array of stalls from around the world, I spent time visiting the UK stalls. I saw that the companies are offering great products and expertise to secure a safe, reliable and consistent supply of pigs.
I will be going back there tomorrow where I will be taking part in the opening ceremony. A good opportunity to promote the UK companies at the show and encourage visitors to their stalls!
Thursday 17 May
I’ve just finished a jam-packed but interesting day in China, on day one of my six day trade mission. I have visited Shanghai, am now in Nanjing and will be travelling to Beijing on Saturday.
We arrived into Shangai early this morning, where I later attended a lunch with UK and Chinese retailers and Chinese importers. The Chinese retail sector offers a huge opportunity for the UK and I was able to speak to retail chains already operating in China about their experiences of entering the Chinese market as well as Chinese retailers who are keen to import high quality British products.
We are already exporting a number of things, such as breakfast cereals, biscuits and whisky; but as Chinese consumers’ tastes change we want to be able to provide to China the wide range of products that Britain has to offer.
After lunch I visited two retailers: City Shop, a Chinese supermaket that imports products from across the world, including the UK; and Marks and Spencers, which imports all its food and drink from the UK. The store manager told me that Chinese customers love to buy ‘British treats’!
I then hopped on to the high speed train to Nanjing where I met with the Mayor of Nanjing, a jovial chap who was interested in UK agriculture, and who wants a visit to a UK farm and processing facility during his upcoming visit to the UK in July.
The day ended with a dinner with UK companies who will be exhibiting at the China Animal Husbandry Exhibition. The UK is able to deliver to China modern technology and the best pig genetics in the world. This exhibition provides an excellent opportunity to create more trade between our two countries. There are already good links between UK and Chinese companies, but there is so much more that we can do.
I’m looking forward to what the rest of the week has to offer.