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The China syndrome

Every statistic about China is large, and the size of its construction market is no exception. But last weeks decree that 625bn additional finance is to be ploughed into infrastructure projects over the next three years is astonishing.

With a few important exceptions, British engineering and construction firms have only dabbled in a market seen as difficult to penetrate. But serious China watchers reckon this construction boost is not only genuine but should open new doors. Up to half the new work is expected to attract international finance and tenders.

What distinguishes this announcement from previous political rhetoric is that China has been hit by a double blow. As the move from a Communist command economy to one led by the marketplace was triggering worrying unemployment, the surrounding Asian financial crisis reduced foreign investment and hit Chinas export revenue.

Chinese leaders want to keep what is now the worlds fastest growing economy on target. British firms have shown what they can achieve in Hong Kong where active construction is continuing, despite the economic crisis, thanks to the vast housing and support infrastructure programme.

Now there is a real opportunity to demonstrate that British and British- based international companies have a lot to offer throughout China. But, as is being highlighted by ICEs technology for exports project, for British firms to be competitive in the long term there is a continuing need for high level investment in research and development to maintain a competitive edge.

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