Exporting guide to China

Overview

China is the great economic success story of the last 30 years. It is a huge market for UK businesses in everything from technology to luxury food products.

Trade statistics

£27.9 billion total UK exports to China for the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: October 2022)

6th largest UK export market

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: October 2022)

4.0% of total UK exports for the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022

(Source: ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: October 2022)

Huge potential market

China is the largest country in the world by population, with over 100 cities of more than a million people. There is a fast-growing business and consumer market. Even with modest economic growth, China’s economy offers great opportunities.

Demand for quality

China’s increasing numbers of middle- and high-income consumers are focusing more on high-quality products. And as Chinese companies expand overseas, they need services and expertise to support them.

Better business environment

There are still challenges in China, but the business environment and market access for exporters has improved.

Export Support Service: access international market export support

The Export Support Service provides specialised support for UK businesses that export to China. Eligible businesses can receive one-to-one guidance, specialist market information, and get connected with overseas third-party providers. Check if your business is eligible for tailored in-market support as part of the Export Support Service.

Top five UK goods exported to China, in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022

Goods Value (£billion)
Cars 3.4
Crude oil 2.5
Medicinal & pharmaceutical products 1.4
Non-ferrous metals 0.9
Scientific instruments (capital) 0.7

Source: ONS Trade in goods: country-by-commodity exports
Last updated: November 2022
Download the latest trade and investment factsheet for China.

Top five UK services exported to China, in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022

Service Value (£billion)
Travel 5.4
Transportation 1.5
Other Business Services 1.3
Financial 1.1
Intellectual property 1.0

Source: ONS UK trade in services: service type by partner country, non-seasonally adjusted
Last updated: October 2022
Download the latest trade and investment factsheet for China.

China: at a glance

Economic growth

8.1%

Actual figure (IMF, 2021)
The UK is 7.4% (IMF, 2021, projected figure)

GDP per capita

$10,525

Actual figure (IMF, 2020)
The UK is $41,127 (IMF, 2020, actual figure)

Currency

Yuan

Business language

Mandarin Chinese

Time zone

GMT+8

Want to see more on China? Sign up for additional market data, content specific to your product or sector and to compare China side by side with other markets.

Opportunities for exporters

A focus on importing to support the domestic market is bringing opportunities. Government policies and initiatives, including the Greater Bay Area and Belt and Road, and the growth in e-commerce are also opening markets. Trade links through Hong Kong remain strong and can be a good route for exporters.

Check for trade barriers

Trade barriers, such as tariffs or taxes, can raise costs, cause delays, or even stop you from exporting. Check for any issues that may impact your business when exporting.

See current trade barriers

See resolved trade barriers

Check duties and customs

Find information on how to export goods from the UK. View the duties, rules, restrictions, and the documents you need for your products.

See current duties and customs procedures

Doing business in China

Preparing to export

Standards and regulations

Not all Chinese standards are aligned with established international standards. It is important to check the laws, regulations, standards and certification requirements that apply to your business. Sectors like medicine and food require registration and certification.

The Standardization Administration of the People’s Republic of China is responsible for standards.

Intellectual property (IP)

Intellectual property (IP) rights are territorial. Rights granted in the UK do not provide protection elsewhere. You should consider getting IP protection abroad if you want to trade overseas or sell to overseas customers via the internet.

The Intellectual Property Office’s International IP Service provides practical information to help you protect, manage and enforce your IP in China.

For further information on IP in China British Businesses can:

- Read our factsheets

- Contact the China IP Attaché team

- Sign up for the China IP Newsletter

- Speak to a lawyer in China.

Trade barriers

Check for any reported barriers to trading with China.

Report any trade barriers that are affecting your business so we can help fix them.

Operating in China

Routes to market

The Chinese market is complex and it can be challenging. Make sure you factor in costs involved in getting products into and around the market, including:

  • marketing for a huge territory
  • tariffs
  • taxation

You’re advised to seek advice and practical help from China business specialists before entering the market. A number of market entry options are available to UK businesses. Some of the most commonly used are:

Agents, distributors or other local partners

Having a local presence on the ground with native Chinese speakers is essential to build sales in China due to:

  • the sheer size of the market
  • language and cultural differences
  • the importance of personal relationships in Chinese business culture

Because of the size of the market, you should consider having more than one agent or distributor.

Do your due diligence to ensure that you are working with credible partners. Think about how well they know your sector and how well they will represent your product, brand and values.

Direct investment

Direct investment is an increasingly viable option for developing your business in China. This could be via:

These options give you the advantage of more control over your business development activities in China, but all of them can carry financial, commercial and reputational risks.

You should expect activities involved in establishing a permanent presence, for example dealing with authorities and recruiting and training staff, to be more challenging and take longer. But over the longer term this approach can be the most effective for growth.

E-commerce

With a potentially massive audience and increasing use of the internet and e-marketplaces, selling online can be a successful route to market in China.

Be aware of differences in user behaviour and plan for this, for example Chinese users generally trust paid search results more than organic results. Chinese language will be required on any China-facing pages of your own website.

You’ll have to operate through Chinese online channels. Many global web browsers, search engines and social media platforms, such as Facebook, are not available in China.

Baidu is the most commonly used search engine in China and WeChat is a hugely popular multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment. DIT can suggest online marketplaces to help you get started. DIT’s E-Exporting Programme can also help.

The China Britain Business Council and the British Chamber of Commerce in China are useful sources of further information on routes to market in China.

Risks

Understanding the market and business culture is important. Government control still affects many areas of the economy. Consider getting specialist help in areas like market research and legal advice.

You should also consider legal advice around data protection and other laws. The legal process can be expensive, but alternative dispute resolution is becoming more common.

Next steps

DIT can advise you on doing business abroad, and help put you in touch with other people who can help such as lawyers and distributors.