TRADE links to the far east have been strengthened after the North East England Chamber of Commerce renewed pledges with an important Chinese city.

The trade links see Sunderland strengthen its friendship with the Chinese city of Harbin, located in China’s North East.

The renewal follows a Memorandum of Understanding between the North East England Chamber and Harbin's own Chamber of Commerce that was first agreed in 2009.

Agreed at a virtual conference on investment, the update was signed virtually by James Ramsbotham CBE, Chief Executive Officer, of the North East Chamber of Commerce and Xu Wei of the Harbin Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Harbin, which is in North East China, is a metropolitan area of nearly 11 million people and the country's eighth largest city.

Sunderland and Harbin first signed their sister cities Friendship Agreement in Harbin in 2009 and the North East England Chamber of Commerce signed their first agreement with Harbin counterparts at the same time.

Since the original signing, Sunderland has developed strong educational, cultural and health links with Harbin and many joint projects have been delivered. A number of companies have also explored business opportunities through the partnership.

Regionally, there was trade valued at £1.5bn between China and the North East last year, and this had grown by a fifth (22 per cent) from £1.26bn in 2014.

The top 2019 regional export was £50m in non-ferrous metals (such as zinc, aluminium, copper) and biggest import was £150m of electrical machinery and appliances.

In addressing the conference, Mr Ramsbotham said: "North East England is the most pre-eminent exporting region of the UK, trading with all parts of the world.

"The partnership between Sunderland and Harbin offers great opportunities to build relationships between businesses in North East England and North East China and given the similarities between our two economies there are many synergies to explore and maximise."

"We look forward to working even harder to build upon this potential.

The virtual investment conference follows an online meeting last month with Sunderland City Council’s Leader, Councillor Graeme Miller, the council's Chief Executive Patrick Melia and Harbin Mayor Sun Zhe where they looked at priorities for future collaboration.

Cllr Miller said: "It's important that Sunderland and the North East region continue to look to global economic opportunities. We are significant exporters here and we receive significant amounts of inward international investment.

"Overseas-headquartered businesses employ around one-in-four of Sunderland's workers and in the last financial year those businesses brought over £300m of capital investment to our city.

"Therefore, it's only right that we continually update and develop our links across the world. As friendships have grown with Harbin, our links have strengthened and in the last 12 months our public health links have really grown. Now it's time to look at our trading links."

Harbin's Mayor Mr Zhe added: "Recently, we have witnessed increasing achievements and fruitful results in Harbin-Europe cooperation. Concrete cooperation between Harbin and Sunderland has been achieved in the fields of healthcare and education."

"Currently, with the situation of epidemic prevention turning better, the economy of Harbin is recovering rapidly, which lays a solid foundation for Harbin to strengthen cooperation with European countries."