Twelve contracts in six months and more could follow

DESPITE being essentially British and now having a Jardines link, Trafalgar House seems to be having no problems winning engineering and construction concessions in China.

It has been awarded 12 contracts in the last six months through wholly owned subsidiaries operating under different names and has high hopes of winning many more.

This is in addition to 20 projects it has underway around the country.

Also of note is a memorandum of understanding, recently signed, to carry out a US$600 million major road and bridge project, details of which will not be released until negotiations have been completed in a few months.

This is an important step for Trafalgar House, being its first private sector infrastructure development project on the mainland. All its other construction and engineering work in China has been for the public sector.

While the British-linked Jardine group has been on the receiving end of much criticism from some leaders in Beijing, Trafalgar House appears to have emerged from the battleground unscathed.

''The fact that we have been awarded 12 contracts in the last six months reflects that we have not been affected,'' said John Fletcher, chairman of the conglomerate's Hong Kong-based new business arm, Trafalgar House Corporate Development.

He said: ''We have won orders where they have seen we have very good technological expertise.

''The Chinese are very shrewd people who realise they are getting world-class quality.'' When it comes to talking about doing business in China, Trafalgar House prefers to concentrate on merits and not politics.

Perhaps it is pure coincidence, or maybe a clever strategic move, but every contract signed by the group in China seems to bear the name of a wholly or jointly owned subsidiary rather than that of Trafalgar House itself.

While never denying its British ownership and the Jardines link, its management have not been keen to flaunt it where China is concerned.

Jardine Matheson's ultimate holding in Trafalgar House is just a few per cent, given that Hongkong Land owns a little more than 25 per cent of Trafalgar House, Jardine Strategic owns 32 per cent of Hongkong Land, and Jardine Matheson owns 52 per cent of Jardine Strategic.

If you look at it this way, as Mr Fletcher would prefer, even the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has a greater interest, with an eight or nine per cent stake.

Having said that, the Jardine influence in the Trafalgar House boardroom now runs deep following Hongkong Land's October 1992 dawn raid.

Jardine Matheson director Simon Keswick was installed as chairman last May and only last month Nigel Rich bowed out as Jardine Matheson taipan in Hong Kong to take up the reins as Trafalgar House managing director in London later in the year.

China is not the only place where Trafalgar House has been treading on sensitive ground.

It has recently been feeling the sting from Malaysia's boycott of British firms in retaliation for media allegations of corruption in Anglo-Malaysian trade.

A couple of weeks ago, Malaysia barred an Anglo-Japanese consortium, including Trafalgar House, Balfour Beatty and General Electric, from becoming construction manager for Kuala Lumpur's GBP2 billion (about HK$22.8 billion) second international airport.

Mr Fletcher said while Trafalgar House would not be now continuing tact in Kuala Lumpur in the wake of the aid-for-arms row with Britain.

Even though it would appear that being British and doing business in Asia today is not always what used to be, Trafalgar House is still eyeing the region for much of its growth.

Despite one or two setbacks, Trafalgar House on the whole has enjoyed much success, with new contracts being won in Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, as well as the 12 in China, all over the past six months.

A Trafalgar House-led consortium is building the Tsing Ma Bridge link to Hong Kong's new airport, and has just submitted a bid through Gammon to build a second bridge as part of the new Route Three highway development through the New Territories.

''It has been quite busy for us,'' said Mr Fletcher.

Trafalgar House is due to announce first-half interims on May 26 and should be looking for an improvement.

This time last year it reported a pre-tax loss of GBP97.6 million (about HK$1.19 billion) for the six months to the end of March 1993 . o project-manage the development, it still hoped to win some engineering and construction contracts.

In March, Gammon Construction, which is jointly owned by Trafalgar House and Jardine Pacific, was also barred from bidding for a $1.5 billion office contr