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Lessons for NE businesses from British Chamber in China


The lessons to be learnt from China’s road to recovery from Covid 19 were shared with North East business leaders in a North East England Chamber of Commerce webinar.

Top of the measures set out by Steven Lynch, chief executive of the British Chamber of Commerce based in Beijing, was the importance of instilling confidence in people to feel safe to go back out into the world at large.

He said: “The Chinese Government’s emphasis on everyone wearing PPE and also tracking their health by an app has been crucial to allow employers to get their staff back to work. Whenever we enter a building now, whether it is an office block or restaurant, there is a very strong certainty that no-one there has the virus. I cannot stress enough how helpful this app in particular has been to get the Chinese economy back on the right track.”

His Chamber has 800 members ranging from global companies to SMEs with a particular remit as an advocate and lobbying conduit, between British businesses and the Chinese Government.

He was keen to stress the opportunities for North East firms in the country with the huge UK/China and Hong Kong trade potential. It currently stands around £100b which could grow if a much-anticipated and long-awaited free trade deal is developed in the future.

Steven Lynch, who’s wife hails from Newcastle originally, has worked in China for 10 years, also highlighted the huge importance this Asian powerhouse puts on its economic growth, which has been at the heart of its policy for 40 years. However, he explained, for the first time, to get a firm grip on the Covid 19 crisis, the focus did shift briefly to halt the spread of the pandemic at the expense of the economy.

He said: “The lessons I want to share from my experience here in China are around the need to be proactive, creative and reactive. Business owners also need to have a holistic view of the whole situation, keep calm and make timely decisions.”

The support offered, and identified as being required, by the British Chamber of Commerce in Beijing was shaped by two surveys done by them, one at the start of the outbreak and another a month later. Results pinpointed clearly where support was required with cash flow being a major concern and UK firms in China not eligible for British Government financial assistance.

Past experience has also informed the Chinese response to this pandemic with the Sars outbreak in particular, a helpful reminder of what worked to get the country back on track quickly.

As well as everyone using PPE when outside Steven Lynch said a further helpful policy was to split workers into two teams so only half were in the office at any one time. This meant if anyone became sick the other 50% of colleagues were still able to go in.

In his view, whether the measures have been successful can be judged by the recent public holiday where 115 million people travelled around China to be with their families with no major outbreaks.

Looking to the future he said there are still challenges for the Chinese economy with one of the major ones being its role as the usual provider of 80% of the global supply chain but that demand has now fallen off a cliff.

He said its economy has to change from 80% goods production 20% service sector to become more balanced to exploit its potential in the healthcare and financial service sectors in particular.

James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “When we are in the current state of handling this crisis it is a tremendous help for our regional businesses to hear what measures could be helpful for them. We are extremely grateful for Steven Lynch’s time and invaluable insights. The issues he has identified as being critical to re-opening the Chinese economy serve to emphasise our own early thoughts with employee confidence in safety top of the list.”