Birmingham’s newest Lord and former council leader Mike Whitby has highlighted the region’s growing trade with China in his debut speech in the Upper House.
Baron Whitby, of Harborne in the city of Birmingham, who during eight years as Birmingham City Council leader forged close links with the Far East, chose a debate on UK-China trade, to make his maiden address in the House of Lords.
The Conservative councillor first paid tribute to the people of Harborne who elected him and to the members of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition who ‘entrusted me for eight years with the leadership of the largest metropolitan authority in the United Kingdom’.
But his speech quickly turned to the recent history of Birmingham’s trade and political relations with Chinese investors and cities.
He said: “A considerable amount of my time and energy was focused on developing and nurturing a sophisticated political relationship with Beijing and several of China’s powerful cities
“We structured a campaign of engagement and business development between Birmingham and China, a programme which used civic links to build bridges into China and reinforce them with formal twinning between several major cities.
“The results have been impressively tangible. The Greater Birmingham City Region exports £2.7 million-worth of goods to mainland China, far more than the south-east region.
“We make up almost a quarter of all UK trade with China and are the only region in Britain that has a trading surplus with China itself. That success is due in no small part to Jaguar Land Rover exports, which increased 74 per cent last year.”
He also highlighted the investment of SAIC in MG Rover, including the recent launch of the MG3, and the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to Birmingham in 2011.
Lord Whitby went on to say that Britain could do more to capitalise on the growing appetite for tourism among the Chinese. “83 million Chinese tourists left China last year, the biggest tourism market in the world, spending £63 billion between them. The United Kingdom saw just a fraction of those visitors, with only 180,000 coming to the UK.
"I believe that with sensible and sensitive visa arrangements we can dramatically improve our student visitor economy,” he added.
He further called for ministerial help to ensure Birmingham International Airport secures direct flights to Chinese cities when the runway extension opens next year.
Lord Alistair Lexden congratulated Lord Whitby on his speech on ‘an excellent maiden speech’.
He added: “His fame goes before him as a most effective and vigorous leader of Birmingham City Council, the city of Joe Chamberlain, which my noble friend served devotedly, not least as head of a notable coalition administration, to which he made reference.”