Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is MP for the Cotswolds, Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party and AECR Board Member.
Having recently visited China, I saw first-hand the extraordinary growth that they are experiencing. I learned about the economic plan of Xi Jinping, the Communist Party’s General Secretary, to the year 2020. China aims to increase GDP per capita to $10,000 over the entire population of 1.25 billion people. Its current GDP per capital is just over $6,000.
In order to achieve this, it will have to have an annual growth rate of 6.7 per cent. But even more staggering is the need to bring in 10 million new people into the workforce each year. With China being the second largest economy in the world, and still growing at an incredible rate, it is important that the UK grabs every opportunity available to benefit from China’s growth.
It is not just trade that we could benefit from. The UK has a large Chinese diaspora, and China is the biggest source of overseas students for Britain. During my visit there, I met with representatives from the Chinese branch of the Royal Agricultural College, which is in Cirencester, in my constituency of the Cotswolds. These links between China and Britain are incredibly important. They provide an opportunity for a huge amount of investment into UK Plc.
Chinese visitors are an important part of the UK economy. While Chinese visitors are relatively small in numbers they are large spenders, spending more than any other overseas visitor. They spend an average of 64 per cent more than other visitors do in London. There is huge potential for growth in the number of Chinese visitors, with a population of 1.3 billion. The number of members of the affluent middle classes is expected to rise from 44 million in 2012 to 225 million in 2022.
We should be able to benefit more from this spend, given our cultural and educational links, and doing so would be of huge value to our economy.
However one of the things that is currently preventing us from benefiting as much as we can is the disincentive that currently exists for Chinese visitors to apply for a UK visa. There is more of an incentive for people to apply for a Schengen visa, which grants them access to 26 countries, than for a UK visa which allows them to visit just the one country. Therefore, we are losing out to our European competitors.
If we are to encourage investment into the British economy by China we need to make it more appealing to apply for a visa. Not to make it easier to get one, but to make the paperwork more simple. It is understandable that before making a large investment somewhere, people will want to visit that place before doing so. Whether it be setting up a business, attending a University or even opting for the UK for a regular holiday destination.
A report is being published next week by the UK-China visa alliance which the Home Office will consider, which has looked into this area and which comes up with some recommendations about how this could be achieved. I for one will be eagerly anticipating its launch.