Overseas entrepreneurs are revaluing their business interests in China as the world grapples with a prolonged pandemic that shows no end in sight. During the Emerge 2021 conference held in Beijing on Sept. 19, TechNode talked to two foreign trade experts, Kiran Patel and José Roberto de Andrade Filho, on tech business collaboration between China, the UK, and Brazil.

Kiran Patel is the senior director at China-Britain Business Council. José Roberto de Andrade Filho is a counsellor and the head of tech and innovation at the Embassy of Brazil in Beijing.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kiran Patel on UK business interests in China

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TechNode: What are some of the rising opportunities in tech for the UK and China?

Patel: The tech sector is a particularly challenging sector, not least because of regulation, politics, data. There are so many challenges to overcome. But in terms of the real opportunities, for the UK and Chinese companies to work together, both for big industries and also with startups and SME (small and medium-sized enterprises), we are seeing actions in medical technology, healthcare, and life science. I would also cite other more specialized areas, such as advanced materials and composites. Graphene, for example, is one area where the UK and China have a partnership and a collaboration, as well as in AI and big data.

China is still the largest market in the world. I spoke earlier about a middle class of 400 million-plus people. That’s a phenomenal market to tap into. We spend our time trying to tell businesses that this isn’t just one market of 1.4 billion people. It’s a very nuanced market and a very specific market. 

Despite the challenge of the pandemic, the UK businesses are still very much looking towards China and the opportunities here. 

TechNode: Can you give us some examples of the collaborations that the two countries have been doing? 

Patel: I believe that since the two zones (free trade zones) have been rolled out as a key strategic policy, about 800 companies have invested. One-fifth of those are international companies. China has its own objectives to achieve, in terms of green growth, digitization, industry upgrading, so on and so forth…We find that our partners across the zones and across inward investment bureaus are very keen to work with the UK and also very keen to work with us to lead and drive events, do market promotion and guide companies to explore policy incentives, talent pool, savings on office spaces, and others. 

We have a wide range of partnerships and collaborations that enable us to put on platforms that you know a UK blockchain company or a company that’s developing AI algorithms for commodities trading, for example, can tap into. They can build partnerships and work together with their counterparts on the China side and develop commercial business partners. 

We ran a competition earlier this year in Tianjin, for example, that gave the winning British company a chance to speak at the World Intelligence Conference this year. 

José Roberto de Andrade Filho on China and Brazil tech collaboration

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TechNode: What are some of the tech areas that China and Brazil are working together? 

Filho: On the level of government to government cooperation, we have been working a lot in promoting different areas such as the exchange of researchers. Smart cities and AI are key points of interest, and technology parks collaboration, which is a key element that has been functioning very well between the two countries. 

At the level of companies, the big Brazilian companies that trade with China are already present here. They have their own innovation departments. I would mention just a few, such as Embraer, the airplane company; Vale, the mining company; and Suzano, the pulp and paper company, one of the biggest in the world, actually. They have innovative collaborations with incubators, with universities. We support that to open new areas for joint projects and creating businesses. 

We are also working with a lot of universities. For example, in terms of agriculture, there is the CLAARI. CLAARI is a network of China-Latin America agricultural research institutions, led by the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou. This is a very recent network that was created a few months ago. And we have had the participation of more than 10 Brazilian universities right now.

TechNode: Why are Brazilian companies interested in coming to China, especially those from the tech sector?

Filho: China is undoubtedly recognized more and more as a key center for innovation. I see from other countries, many companies coming to innovate in China, and not necessarily for the Chinese market, but hiring engineers here, creating their own R&D centers and labs to produce products and services. Some companies are doing research for new products here in China.

I think it’s important to say in China can find talents. Every year hundreds of thousands of highly qualified engineers are graduated here in China, plus the overseas talents that come here. So you have people, you have capital. There are lots of investors. China’s the second biggest financial market in the world. So if you want to invest in your product. And you have the ecosystem, Beijing is one of the best examples, especially now with the two zones and Zhongguancun. 

The history of Zhongguancun is a very good example, renowned all over the world. It’s an ecosystem where you can find everything you need to make your business grow. Once you have a very good idea, or incrementally from the business you have today, you start thinking innovative ways. This is something that not only Brazilians but many foreigners have recognized.