China: Open for business and bursting with opportunity

A burgeoning middle class, growing demand for quality assurance and increasingly favourable market conditions have opened up fantastic opportunities for European companies in China. The success of recent high-level trade discussions confirms that this enormous market should be considered a serious destination for food and drink businesses.

The EU-China trade relationship already has deep roots. China is now the EU's second-biggest trading partner behind the United States, while the EU is China's biggest trading partner. Trade between the two blocks tops over €1 billion a day[1].

Recent trade discussions have sought to deepen this relationship further by achieving overarching agreements on key issues such as global economic governance, trade and investment.

Free trade commitment

The 7th annual EU-China High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue (HED)[2] for example, held on 25 June 2018, resulted in a joint declaration of support for a rules-based multilateral trading system, with World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its centre. A working group to cooperate on WTO reform was agreed on, while discussions moved both parties closer to finding a solution for expanding market access for certain meat products such as beef and poultry.

The substance of the HED talks smoothed a path towards the EU-China summit, which took place on July 16-17 in Beijing. A key objective of the summit was to identify ways of improving bilateral trade and investment relations, at a time when the US is imposing tariffs and challenging the notion of free trade.

“Opening up has been a key driver of China’s reform agenda, so we will continue to open wider to the world, including widening market access for foreign investors,” said Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang[3]. “Countries are welcome to board China’s economic express to share opportunities of China’s development.” In a Joint Statement following the summit, both parties stated that they remained “strongly committed to fostering an open world economy, improving trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation, resisting protectionism and unilateralism, and making globalisation more open, balanced, inclusive, and beneficial to all.[4]

Demand for quality

Another significant pull factor is the fact that China’s immense – and increasingly affluent – population is an untapped receptive market for European goods. A 2018 analysis by the UK’s Newcastle University[5] revealed that Chinese consumers were willing to buy imported goods that they considered to be of higher quality.

“We found that despite considerable reforms of the food system regulation, Chinese consumers were distrustful of domestic products and considered imported food products to be better quality and safer,” says lead author Lynn Frewer, Professor of Food and Society at Newcastle University. “It’s important that European producers understand what Chinese consumers are looking for in order to continue to offer that reassurance and to market their products successfully.”

This year, Hi & Fi Asia-China will move to NECC, Shanghai, where it will take place alongside HNC, ProPak China, Expo Food Manufacturing and Starch Expo. These events will bring together the entire health and food industries in China, providing European food and beverages companies with the ideal opportunity to make their mark in this exciting market.