Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce is playing a crucial part in helping Midland companies develop business in the Far East. Joanna Geary found out more during a visit to Hong Kong.

Coventry is leading the way in supporting Midland firms in the Far East, the head of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has said. Unlike some other regional Chambers, Coventry & Warwickshire was efficient and pro-active in creating opportunities for UK firms in the Far East, Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck noted.

Coventry University is also helping to establish a "soft-landing zone" in Hong Kong which, when it opens next year, will provide firms with advice and help to develop trade and research links with the region.

Brig Hammerbeck said: "The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, works particularly closely with Coventry. It is an exceptionally good Chamber, well run and focused on developing opportunities for its members. It organises regular trade missions.

"It has been some considerable time since Birmingham Chamber of Commerce organised a mission to Hong Kong, however Coventry Chamber organises them almost on an annual basis and is a welcome and long-term friend. I am sure many Birmingham businesses benefit from Coventry's missions."

The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong currently has 1,200 members which together employ ten per cent of the region's working population, the Brigadier claimed. It also has a membership of approximately 60 companies in the UK.

"We are finding that our UK membership is growing all the time, as businesses become more interested in China," said Brig Hammerbeck.

"Many of these are high technology companies, but there is a huge range of firms that see opportunities in the Far East."

He added that the West Midlands was a fruitful part of the UK for the Chamber, as the region's manufacturing tradition meant businesses were prepared to look further afield for potential markets.

He said: "The region had a tradition that goes back to the Industrial Revolution of manufacturing items used in worldwide trade.

"We find this means businesses are often more willing to consider trading in somewhere such as China, whereas other regions stick to traditional markets such as Germany, the Netherlands, France and the US."

UK firms will also have the opportunity to be introduced to Chinese and Hong Kong business and research partners with the opening of the Coventry-run centre UK Basepoint. This will provide businesses with access to office space and guidance on setting up in the Far East.

Based in the Hong Kong Science & Technologies Park in Shatin in the New Territories, the centre will also advise firms on outsourcing, establishing joint ventures and partnering universities in the region for research and development.

Due to be opened in March, UK Trade & Investment, regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and Coventry University have funded the centre.

Tony Collingridge, head of UK Trade & Investment Asia Pacific Region Team, said: "This is a very exciting project for us and we hope it will provide businesses with a useful gateway to China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region."

In recent years the rise of Shanghai as a financial centre has raised questions about whether Hong Kong can maintain its reputation for linking business in the Far East to the rest of the world.

But, according to the Brigadier, Hong Kong still has a strong role to play as a bridge between the East and the West.

He said: "Hong Kong is a business integrator, providing the link for large Chinese companies seeking to invest internationally, or for international businesses interested in China. It has experience, knowledge, trust and certainty. There is no real competition from Shanghai and both cities complement each other. Shanghai is more focused on the domestic market.

"Hong Kong will remain China's hub for international business. Not only has it built up a strong reputation but, in addition, the Chinese are a proud nation and there is simply no way they would allow Hong Kong to fail."

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