Bournemouth Mayor Rod Cooper has welcomed a decision by European Union officials to open talks on a free trade agreement with China.
The planned talks, the first of their kind, were announced during a European visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mayor Cooper has been a regular traveller to China, where he has taken part in teaching trips for the past 12 years.
Following his return on Monday, he said: “I think there are wonderful opportunities for both private people and businesses from Bournemouth in China.”
Mayor Cooper travelled along a Bournemouth delegation to Zibo in the east of China, a city of 4.5 million people, to establish links for a twin city partnership. A visit by a Chinese delegation is expected in May.
Intensify trade relations
Mayor Cooper said: “Both us and the Chinese people have been waiting for an opportunity to intensify trade relations. More Chinese students coming here to learn English and more British teachers going to China will benefit both.”
But a 2014 report by The Higher Education Funding Council for England shows a drop in international student enrolments in the UK – the first decline in 29 years.
“Both us and the Chinese people have been waiting for an opportunity to intensify trade relations” – Mayor Rod Cooper
Bournemouth East MP Conor Burns highlighted the issue of tightened visa regulations for international students in the House of Commons in 2010 as part of discussions over Bournemouth’s language schools. He said at the time: “The English language is one of our greatest assets.”
Additional visa changes made in April 2012 were seen to further deter potential students from choosing the UK.
But during a visit to China last year, Chancellor George Osborne announced visa application processes for Chinese students and visitors were to be “streamlined and simplified”.
Chinese citizens currently make up 23 per cent of entrants for full-time international taught master’s degree entrants studying full-time courses in the UK.
An EU-China free trade agreement would establish an unprecedented free market of more than 2 billion people. Mayor Cooper said that this “could result in further student exchange”.