How Yorkshire firms can benefit from a China's burgeoning middle class

The impending growth in demand for high quality goods and services among the Chinese middle class should present a significant opportunity for Yorkshire business, a leading trade expert has claimed.

Andrew Seaton, chief executive of the Chinese British Business Council, said that Yorkshire’s economy represented a “good collection of attributes” and that the region’s strong and traditional brands would be popular to Chinese consumers in the coming years.

In recent times, products from Yorkshire such as food, machinery, textile fabrics and chemicals have all been picking up significant increases in trade volume with China.

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In the first quarter of 2021 alone, volumes were up 28.3 per cent to £154m.

China's appetite for consumer goods is set to soar.

Department for Internal Trade figures put the Chinese middle class at some 140 million people, with that figure expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050 as China’s economy grows to become the largest on the planet.

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“It is whether you have the right product, the right services and the right approach to the market. Consumers of products do not think in terms of whether this is a product from London or a product from Harrogate.

“If you can say ‘we are a proud Yorkshire company, rooted in Harrogate or Leeds’, then that is a competitive advantage.

Taylor's of Harrogate cited as an example of a Yorkshire firm doing well in China.

“You have strong manufacturing, textiles, a significant financial services clusters, strong universities - that is a pretty good collection of attributes.”

China is currently the UK’s third largest trading partner with commerce between the two countries responsible for some 125,000 jobs domestically.

With China’s economy expected to outgrow America’s as the world’s largest within a decade, Mr Seaton said: “If global trading in Britain doesn’t take advantage of what is about to become the world’s biggest economy, then we will be the losers from that.”

Mr Seaton said that Chinese middle class were “sophisticated, tech-savvy consumers” who were particularly drawn to “those that have brand and heritage”.

Clive Black of Sound Leisure, another firm lauded for its work in Chinese markets.

“For Yorkshire companies, I would suggest this a really important opportunity,” he added.

Traditionally Germany has the strongest relationship with China, owing to its manufacturing prowess. However Mr Seaton predicted that a shift in emphasis was coming that could present more of an opportunity for Britain.

“The emphasis in China in recent years has been very much wanting to grow their economy by investing, whether that is in infrastructure or manufacturing, and in exporting. And now the balance of that is shifting as the economy gets richer and gets a bigger middle class.

"The Chinese Government is very much more emphasising the importance of consumer demand in driving economic growth.

"You will see an emphasis on consumption, which should play well into UK providers of UK high quality goods and services.”

Mr Seaton cited Taylor’s of Harrogate, Leeds’s Sound Leisure and Brighouse-based Halifax Fans as companies all doing great business in China.

He added: “Whether the UK was in the EU or out of the EU is not the issue.

"It is about going forward this is where the global growth is happening. Frankly, even if Brexit had not happened we would be having very much the same conversation as today.”

He acknowledged China is sometimes in the news for negative reasons but said this should not obscure the potential boost to employment and prosperity in Yorkshire.