So George Osborne finally concedes defeat over the extra visa required for visitors to Britain on top of the EU visa covering 26 countries.No longer will rich Chinese have to jump through immigration hoops, but poorer Chinese migrant workers will in a two-tier travel trap that signals another nail hammered into prospects of a fair and equitable world.
I wrote about the way the stupid British visas exclude the world's biggest shoppers in a recent South China Morning Post column:
A few years ago, I was invited by a friend to join him and a few chums for tea at an elegant hotel in poshest Knightsbridge. Over a pot of Earl Grey, he outlined his cunning plan: to take a stack of Louis Vuitton bags back to Hong Kong where women were offering their firstborns in exchange for the poo-coloured accessories with the vulgar logo. Rarity value would, he assured us, make him a fortune.
He pointed out the LV shop across the street, pressed £2K wads in our mitts. and sent us off in pairs to go fetch. The excitement of handing over a huge amount of cash for such fripperies made me forget to ask for a cut (he judged me well) but I enjoyed picking out the ugliest duffel bag I've ever seen, plus a keycase with the change.
When he asked us to repeat the same in the Bond Street LV store, we were abruptly ejected. Apparently, the manager knew we'd already brought one each in Sloane Street. What planet was I on where shops turned away business? However, such is the topsy-turvey world of the rich, and the mystery of The Brand, that mere tax-paying mortals will never fully understand it.
Today, London may be rammed with Chinese tourists buying their own expensive tat, but Britain attracts fewer mainland Chinese than other European countries. They want to spend their cash in France, Italy and Germany.
The reason is the cost and inconvenience of UK visas required on top of the one allowing access to the 26 other EU countries.
We may consider 20% VAT on goods to be punishingly high, but it's low compared to Chinese tariffs on luxury goods. And tourists also enjoy greater protection against counterfeit rip-offs, our police state being the most draconian when it comes to shopping. Those street vendors in Barcelona selling knock-off Louis Vuitton bags would have their collars felt if they tried that in London's West End.
An estimated £1.2 bn is lost every year in sales because only one in ten Chinese visitors to Europe apply for UK visas. We sniff at that sum and then moan about the deficit.
Chinese are now the biggest shopaholics in the world, and yet we've put up a Closed for Business sign just as we find ourselves immersed in the most horrendous recession ever. Is Brand Great Britain now being managed by Louis Vuitton?
How much does China own in Britain?
Funny how hitting Tories in their pockets helps them overcome their squeamishness over funny foreigners.