The majority of UK small businesses continue to ignore the potential of selling their products into the Chinese market, according to Asian trade expert Joanna Laven.

Speaking at the World SME Expo in Hong Kong, the director of UK trade and export consultancy China Connect said small firms often did not think of the Far East for anything other than cheap manufacturing.

Ms Laven, who also runs the small business office facility Asia Business HQ, said whilst many companies recognised the potential for low cost production in China, they failed to explore whether they could also sell into the country.

"There is no reason why small firms should not look to China to sell their products. As the country has become increasingly used to dealing with the West, the country's professionalism has grown.

"Yes there are still administrative barriers, but these can be overcome and the opportunities are certainly significant."

There is currently a rising demand in the Chinese market for niche, branded products - particularly high-technology goods or technical equipment.

Ms Laven explained: "One of our first successes was a firm that manufactured stud-welding equipment. It found a demand in China for its product and began to manufacture in Shanghai, as well as in the UK. The Chinese side is now more than 50 per cent of its business."

One firm keen to tap into the potential on the Chinese market is Hull-based online gaming company, Omerta. Omerta - the word for the Italian Mafia's code of silence - is a controversial text-based role-playing game attracting 3.5 million registered users in 150 countries. It is set in the 1930s with users taking on the role of a member of the Italian or American Mafia and earning points by undertaking certain activities within the game - such as committing organised crime, stealing cars and breaking their friends out of jail.

The game is popular amongst teens, with the average user a 14-year-old boy.

Chief executive Steve Biddick said there were great opportunities for the firm within China, if it is able to tap into the burgeoning Chinese games market.

"Most of our users come through recommendations and, although the game has been translated into Chinese, we haven't yet built up a critical mass here yet.

"We just need one group, or one school of children to catch on to the game and then it will spread."

Mr Biddick added that the growing market for mobile Internet in China was a main focus for Omerta, which currently sees annual turnover of £500,000 and employs 15 people in four countries.

"There are currently 490 million mobile phone accounts in China and this is growing by 60 million a year," he added. "Broadband connections are also growing at a similar rate. This is a massive opportunity for us."

With the internet it is also possible to establish trade links with China without leaving the UK, Mr Biddick said. "We were given a representative in China by China Connect and he has already started to make links into the market on our behalf.

"I did need to come out here to see him, if I didn't want to, it was my choice. I wanted to see the whites of his eyes - in the true gangster style."

Ms Laven established Asia Business HQ - which provides "virtual" and real office space, hot-desking and representation in Hong Kong for UK small businesses - in March this year. But, despite increasing interest in the Far East in the UK, the number of firms taking up the opportunity to have an office address in Hong Kong has not been high.

Ms Laven continued: "I don't think UK SMEs realise the prestige that having a Hong Kong address can provide them when they are trying to trade in China. Also, I think many are unaware of the low business tax rate in Hong Kong, which is less than 17 per cent."