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Bill Midgley column.

Byline: By Bill Midgley

One of the guests at a recent business gathering surprised many by saying he represented a company that was involved in spark plugs.

For a while we made the mistake of assuming he was actually from manufacturing, only to be enlightened that he actually bought and sold spark plugs; buying them from China and selling them here and Europe.

Imagine our disillusionment at not meeting a real live manufacturer before they are an extinct species.

However, what did follow was quite an animated discussion on China, its force as an economic giant and a major competitor to our own manufacturing and export industries.

Many declared interests in China, mainly through investment in new industries, and all were impressed by the process undertaken by the Chinese and their rapid economic development. There will undoubtedly be a payback to British business as a result of this investment, hopefully as a preferred recipient of manufactured goods we can re-export to world markets and certainly by way of dividends on the substantial investments that have taken place. That is the positive side of our involvement in the Far East and I am by no means advocating this should not continue, as Britain has a strong history of investing around the world and reaping the appropriate rewards.

But in the past we've maintained an economic advantage over those countries and stayed technologically ahead of them. This is no longer the case. While we invest in emerging economies, we're in danger of failing to look to our own industries.

This means we need to look again at re-investment in our own country; that is re-investment in technology that is ahead of the rest of the world and re-investment in our work-force.

Perhaps one way ahead may be to look for more joint ventures with our Far Eastern competitors rather than merely investing in their expansion.

That could mean more factories being opened in the UK so that both parties can contribute equally to their own national economic growth. That has worked well in the past and still works well with US investment.

It might also give us the advantage of learning from the enhanced skills other countries have taken on board.

In my youth, there was a song about a slow boat to China. We now need to look for movement a little more rapid than that, and learn to develop partnerships that will ensure we, too, can benefit from the investment expertise of UK companies.

Bill Midgley is president of the British Chambers of Commerce.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 2, 2005
Words:424
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