China boost for economy

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“SIGNIFICANT” long-term benefits to Sheffield’s economy are predicted following a visit by a trade delegation from the city to the Chinese city of Chengdu, a report has predicted.

Council leader Coun Paul Scriven, staff from development company Creative Sheffield and senior executives from city companies went on the trip to “build links” with Chinese enterprises.

A report to a council scrutiny board has revealed that since the trip last year four companies from Sheffield are now negotiating contracts with businesses in the Chengdu region and three others plan similar moves.

Chengdu, a large city in south west China, has a population of five million and is the provincial capital of Sichuan province, home to seven million more.

A relationship has developed over recent years between Sheffield and Chengdu after Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe bought a football team in the city - now known as Chengdu Blades.

In 2009, Sheffield Council decided it should try to build more trade links with China after an independent report found the city was not promoting itself in emerging Far East economies.

A “sister city” agreement had already been drawn up and last autumn’s visit was designed to increase face to face contact, which experts say is the best way to build relationships in China.

The report on the visit, presented to Sheffield Council’s Resources and Performance Scrutiny Committee, said: “A strong impetus for the relationship between the two cities has been the relationship between Chengdu Blades and Sheffield United.

“The presence of the Chengdu Blades has been vital in spreading awareness of Sheffield in Chengdu and also of Chengdu in Sheffield. This gives Sheffield a unique sporting and cultural link with Chengdu that no other sister or partner city has.”

The report said building on the football link will put Sheffield in a position as the “destination of choice” for Chinese companies looking to enter the European Union economy.

At present, economic chiefs in the city fear small and medium-sized firms are struggling to find a foothold in the Chinese market and say trade visits have to take place to help them achieve.

The report said: “In order to ensure long-term prosperity, Sheffield companies need to engage in rapidly growing, emerging economies such as China.

“It is estimated by 2050 China will be the world’s largest economy, with a middle class of 520 million people, which is larger than the current population of the European Union which is around 500 million.

“Unlike in Western markets, the Chinese system places particular importance on government-to-government relations which can be used to directly benefit company to company contacts.”

n Business: P44