The Invest in Britain Bureau (IBB) is working hard at securing the next wave of investments in this country as well as preserving the investments of those affected by the recent Asian economic crisis. Says an insider at the IBB: 'Places like Taiwan are relatively unscathed by the recent crisis. They have had a modest devaluation but still maintain high levels of reserves and the companies by and large have low levels of debt. Consequently, we believe that we are at the start of a very significant series of investments by Taiwanese electronics companies over the next few years and obviously want to attract as much as we can to this country.'
Of course, to get a country to invest in the UK takes years of preparatory work in developing contacts with companies based in the region, sometimes with no immediate tangible benefit. Another source in the IBB gives an illustration: 'We are working very hard on laying the ground for some big investments in this country from China.' This is a longer-term project with the pace of political change determining the ability of the big state corporations to invest abroad. Nevertheless, the IBB has just launched a national campaign to tap into the external investment potential of mainland China, with the IBB chief executive, Andrew Fraser, making an official visit to meet key personnel in the Chinese government and state enterprises last September.
China has been a latecomer to external investment. The high labour costs and rents which drove the Japanese to invest outside their country have not been a factor in China. However, Chinese enterprises believe they could benefit from Britain's relatively open policy of technology transfer if they set up in Britain - and would also gain the access to the single market enjoyed by other investors locating in Britain.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (MOFTEC), which approves all outward investment, claims that there are currently 5,000 Chinese invested enterprises worldwide, worth some £8.2 billion.
Even so, Western Europe accounts for only about 2% of the global outflow.
MOFTEC estimates that 30 enterprises (excluding Taiwan and Hong Kong) have so far invested about £6 million in Britain, although this has mainly come from banks, insurance houses and trading corporations. And investments from Hong Kong continue apace. For example, Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong-Kong based property company, recently acquired its second British port, Harwich, in a deal valued at around £88 million.