Reality Check: How does China-UK trade compare globally?

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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The UK prime minister and the Chinese Premier have agreed on a new trade and investment review, seen as a stepping stone to a full free trade agreement after Brexit.

Chinese media is awash with claims that China and the UK are still living out the "golden era" of economic ties first proclaimed by David Cameron's government in 2015.

But how much is the relationship worth to each country - and how does it compare globally?

In terms of total trade in goods and services, China is the UK's fifth largest trading partner (in terms of countries) - and the second largest non-EU partner after the United States. In 2016, UK-China trade was worth £59.1bn.

The UK ran a trade deficit of £25.4bn with China in 2016.

Imports from China were £42.3bn, whereas UK exports to China were worth £16.8bn.

However, British exports to China have increased by 64% since 2010.

China lifting its ban on British beef might have made the news today, but Dr Jan Knoerich, from King's College London's Lau Institute, says that "the big story, long-term, is for the UK to increase its export of services to China".

The UK had a surplus of £1.6bn on trade in services with China in 2016, the largest being travel services. In contrast, when you look at goods, China exports £27.1bn more to the UK than the UK does to China.

Chinese investments in the UK

Image source, Getty Images

Chinese companies invested about £20bn in Britain in 2017, according to the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.

One of the best known investments is the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear power station, but some of their other interesting ones over the years include:

  • The 'Cheesegrater' - the tallest building in London's financial district was sold to Hong Kong-based CC Land for around £1.15bn in March 2017.
  • Skyscanner - the Scottish flight price aggregator was sold to the Chinese travel firm Ctrip International in 2016.
  • Hamleys, the toy shop, was bought by C Banner International Holdings in 2015 - and in December the world's largest Hamleys opened in Beijing.
  • The breakfast cereal Weetabix was bought by the Chinese company Bright Food in 2012 - but then sold again in 2017 to an American company, reportedly after failing to crack the Chinese breakfast market.

How does the UK compare globally?

The EU is China's largest trading partner in goods, with the United States and countries from the Asia-Pacific region making up the rest of the top 10.

In 2016, the UK was China's 20th largest source of imports, and its 10th largest market for exports, according to the World Bank.

However, within the EU, the UK is China's second largest trading partner. Germany is its largest.

Image source, Empics

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