10 Jan 2011

Selling Britain to China – literally?

Our International Editor, Lindsey Hilsum, says the Anglo-Chinese trade talks reflect a growing readiness on Britain’s part to sell its companies to the highest bidder.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were out there selling Britain today. They believe China is the key to Britain’s economic recovery, so they’re showering the visiting Chinese Vice Premier with love in the hope he’ll shower UK business with investment.

Interestingly the biggest deal signed today was for Jaguar Landrover to sell 40,000 more vehicles – worth more than £1 billion – to China in 2011.

But Jaguar Landrover isn’t a British company anymore – it’s a division of Indian owned Tata.

Sir David Brewer, the chairman of the China-Britain Business Council says that’s not the point.

“A lot of our businesses are owned by companies from other countries,” he says. “We’re encouraging the Chinese to buy up or invest in our companies. If it sustains the factories and wealth and employment, it doesn’t matter so much who owns it.”

Americans are highly sensitive about the Chinese buying up their companies – hence the fuss when China tried to buy a controlling stake in Unocal a few years back. France and Germany are cautious too. But Britain is very keen to sell its companies to the highest bidders, wherever they’re from.

Does that mean British business is ahead of the game, operating effectively in the global economy? Or does it mean we’re mugs? Or just like the Chinese consumers, who flocked to London this Christmas. First through the doors when the sales opened on Boxing Day, they snapped up Burberry and Mulberry and all the British brands they love. All made in China, of course.