Automotive engineering firms in the West Midlands have been warned they could be missing out on valuable contracts by ignoring potential investment opportunities in China.
UK Trade & Investment said it feared many companies in the region were still worried about taking a real step into the Chinese market. The support agency said Chinese businesses were now far more open than they used to be and were actively encouraging trade with the UK.
The message was reinforced during the recent Spring Fair at the NEC in Birmingham, attended by representatives of MOFCOM, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Keen to develop closer trade links, the delegates were urging Midland engineering companies to see the vast potential offered in their country.
Mark Eaton, of the UK Trade & Investment Team China Unit, said the Chinese delegates had been disappointed at the British showing at the China International Auto Parts Expo Show, which took place in Beijing in November.
Although the event attracted firms from 70 countries, representation from the UK was disappointingly low.
"There is no question that there has been a shift in the market recently. China is far more outward looking than it was just a few years ago, and as a result trade is very much a two way process," said Mr Eaton. "Chinese automotive companies recognise that, with the rate of growth in their economy, they need a supply chain which can not only supply components but also expertise and that is something we have in abundance in this region.
"The big difference now is that a lot of these companies have the cash to invest into Western partners," he added.
Mr Eaton said there was a feeling amongst the Chinese that while other Western companies such as Bosch, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen were very supportive of the Expo event, UK companies did not take full advantage of the opportunities available.
"It would be a crying shame if West Midlands companies missed the boat and let a good opportunity slip," he added.
Zhang Yazhyu, of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said the aim of the Expo show - the fourth largest auto parts event in the world - was to create a world class trade fair.
She said of this year's event - which again takes place in Beijing in November: "There will be more than 2,000 companies exhibiting and over 100,000 people visiting the event."
This year there will also be a business matching event for companies seeking potential partners. As this is the only event of its kind supported by MOFCOM the search for suitable companies will be China-wide.
"We have very close links with the Midlands through UK Trade & Investment and are well aware of the expertise in this region. We feel it is a real opportunity for companies," she added.
During her visit, Zhang Yazhyu was given a tour of Binley-based electrical vehicle manufacturer Modec.
China is the second largest consumer of vehicles in the world yet less than three per cent of households in the county own a car. By 2010 it is estimated that around 80 million of the population will own a car.
This year's China International Automotive Parts Expo will be between November 12-15.