David Cameron has arrived in Beijing pledging to champion a new EU-China free trade agreement which could potentially be worth £1.8bn a year for the UK alone.

The prime minister promised to put his "full political heavyweight" behind the proposed deal despite increasing unease over Britain's membership in the bloc.

Cameron, who is leading a trade delegation of more than 100 people on a three-day visit, will also hold bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. This is the largest overseas British trade mission of its kind.

In an article in the Chinese weekly news magazine Caixin on the eve of his visit, Cameron wrote: "Put simply, there is no country in the western world more open to Chinese investment, more able to meet the demands of Chinese consumers, or more willing to make the case for economic openness in the G8, the G20 and the European Union. And there is no country more ready to forge a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding that can address issues of concern and advance our shared interests in the world."

"Building on the recent launch of EU-China negotiations on investment, and on China's continued commitment to economic reform, I now want to set a new long-term goal of an ambitious and comprehensive EU-China Free Trade Agreement."

Some members of the European Commission are sceptical of the deal as they fear it could lead to cheap and inferior quality imports flooding the market. Reports suggest Cameron has already discussed the agreement with some of the EU members.

"It'll be the normal thing in the EU which will be a discussion where there will be some sceptics. There will be some enthusiasts and I think the enthusiasts have the wind in our sails," Cameron told reporters on board the plane to China.

Cameron's visit is also intended to pacify China over his meeting with Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who is currently in exile, in May last year, which infuriated Beijing.

Leading figures including architect Zaha Hadid, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover Ralf Speth, and Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United are accompaniing Cameron. Scores of top representatives from exporters Rolls-Royce, HSBC, Barclays, Virgin, Royal Dutch Shell and BP are also part of the trade delegation.

Apart from trade talks, Cameron is set to discuss the latest developments in Iran and North Korea.