A Devon food producer was on the list of those on a trade trip to China. But where were the law firms?

When I lived in Szechuan briefly I remember hearing a couple outside my window shouting at each other. 'What's the big problem?' I asked my Chinese friend. ‘Oh, it's nothing. They’re just discussing what to have for dinner,' she said.

Similarly, I learned that when my Chinese colleagues refused to accept some small gifts I wanted to bestow, they weren’t being churlish. Politeness dictated that I ask them up to three times before they accepted.

Navigating cultural differences can be tricky, and evidently is all the more complicated on the global-political stage.

David Cameron found this out to his detriment last year when China cancelled a trade delegation due to his meeting the Dalai Lama. Hence the recent rhetoric on his current China trade trip about building a long-term relationship on ‘mutual understanding and respect’.

But more surprising than Cameron going cap in hand to China with the promise to talk only trade, is the delegate list of those accompanying him.

Of the 100 businesses, including 18 financial and professional services representatives, not one law firm appears. 

(Devon food producer Westaway Sausages is among the elect, although it’s not immediately obvious how easy the company’s product will be to eat with chopsticks).

Of course, firms are already establishing a strong presence in the Chinese market off their own bat – and the delegation itself is arguably of more symbolic than economic value. It's also likely that some firms were invited but turned the offer down.

However, this is the second big UK trade mission to China in as many months not to include law firms, following Boris Johnson’s visit in October. So the sector’s omission is starting to become glaringly obvious, given its significance as a world-leading export.

One explanation for its absence could be that firms are waiting to be asked a third time out of politeness. Or perhaps they just view it as a lot of shouting about nothing.

Kathleen Hall is a Gazette reporter