I OFTEN hear people refer to Scotland as a small country and in comparison to China they are correct. But for a small country we are big players in innovation technology, with some of the world’s biggest countries looking to us for solutions and expertise. Internationalisation and innovation are two of the cornerstones of my government’s economic policy, and their potential to transform our economy has been central to my visit to China and Hong Kong.
In each of the cities I visited – Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong – I saw Scottish companies matching their innovative products and offerings with the huge opportunities offered to us by an economy the size of China. Just a small corner of that market could transform the fortunes of Scottish businesses.
The 50 companies involved in this trip showed Scotland at our creative best. With KAL, we had the world’s leading ATM software company launching its retail teller machine to the Chinese market and signing a partnership agreement with JustTide, the Chinese OEM supplier, to manufacture RTMs for the worldwide market – Scotland is building the world’s bank.
At a business showcase in Beijing, eight Scottish firms signed deals with Chinese partners, generating more than £40 million to the Scottish economy and creating at least 70 jobs. It was a diverse range of deals, from telecoms and engineering to renewable energy and healthcare.
In Jianxing, near Shanghai, I launched the expansion in China of textiles manufacturer J & D Wilkie. Their expansion comes from employing a Chinese graduate who inspired them to take production into his home country.
While the market for luxury products offers huge potential for our textile manufacturers and designers, our food and drink businesses are building on the quality and recognition given to Scottish whisky to highlight other brands – importing Scottish gin, marketing shortbread and promoting our top quality seafood across Asia.
The connections are not just coming from business. At present, 8,545 students from mainland China and Hong Kong study in Scotland. Those young people are great ambassadors for China, but can become significant assets for Scotland.
And there is enormous potential to connect Scotland’s world-leading universities not just with demand in China for learning but with research and development. Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow University, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh Napier, Aberdeen and Dundee universities all formed partnerships with Chinese universities or businesses during this trip; ranging from student exchanges, engineering programmes and clinical research.
I have long known that Scotland is a remarkable country that punches above its weight for its size. We have been at the forefront of many innovation projects for decades, if not centuries, and there is no doubting that we will continue to be a leading global innovator.