China deal sparks hope for thousands of jobs
THE Government last night signed major new trade agreements with China with the aim of generating thousands of jobs for the Irish economy.
The second-most powerful politician in the world's booming economy made a whirlwind tour of the country amid hopes of forging new links that will boost exports, tourism and create jobs.
In all, four trade agreements were signed -- designed to increase food sales, link up Irish and Chinese businesses and education centres, as well as eradicating red tape in both countries.
The visit of China's Vice-President Xi Jinping is seen as one of the most important the country has hosted and has the potential to have far wider economic benefits than the high-profile tours of Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth.
With the European economy in recession, our food industry in particular is seen as a key area where export cash can be earned as it will be better placed to aggressively target the growing middle class in China.
As part of the tour Mr Xi was brought to a dairy farm in Clare to highlight the potential for agriculture -- as well as to the Cliffs of Moher and Croke Park to help promote the tourism industry.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny signalled he will travel to China this year after being personally invited to do so by the future Chinese leader. Three other cabinet ministers, Richard Bruton, Ruairi Quinn and Simon Coveney are also leading separate trade missions to boost earnings from the huge Chinese economy.
There are big opportunities for Irish farmers, given that the increasingly wealthy Chinese population is switching to richer diets based more on meat and dairy products than traditional grains and vegetables. And given that there are only 10,000 Chinese visitors arriving here each year, there is huge potential to increase the number of tourists from the growing Chinese middle class.
The visit is seen as hugely significant as Ireland was the only EU country he stopped in while travelling from the US to Turkey. There were no high-profile jobs announcements yesterday -- but boosting trade with China is seen as a crucial part of the Government's strategy to create 100,000 over the next few years.
However, the ministers are starting from an extremely low base -- with exports by indigenous Irish companies to China accounting for only 0.2pc of our total exports when multi-national goods are stripped out.
And there are just eight people employed in Enterprise Ireland's three offices in China -- one per 162 million people. It is understood the agency is ramping up the number of local specialists it employs to help Irish companies trying to expand there.
After meeting Mr Xi at Dublin Castle last night, Mr Kenny said the visit was mainly about "trade, investment and understanding".
"I hope the Chinese vice president and his delegation get an understanding that this is a country that will do what it says it is going to do in the context of getting out the programme that we are in and playing a full part in the development of the European Union," he said.
There will be even more trade activity today at a conference in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin, which will be attended by 160 Irish companies and representatives from 90 Chinese companies.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who is going to visit China in April, said there is huge demand in China for infant formula, which is produced in giant quantities here -- after contaminated Chinese infant formula killed babies in 2008.
Tourism Ireland is planning to capitalise on the visit by distributing photos next week to Chinese tourist magazines of him visiting iconic Irish attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher.
The visit of the man expected to become China's next president was headline news yesterday on the biggest TV news show in China 'New China Broadcast News'.
One of the most important trade agreements signed yesterday by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and Mr Xi creates an organisation inside China to promote Ireland to Chinese companies.
And the state is also positioning itself as the best base for Chinese foreign direct investment in the EU. This may not happen immediately -- but Chinese companies are eventually expected to start expanding abroad.
Mr Bruton said that Ireland was very well placed to be the target of such investment as the only English-speaking member of the eurozone
"These agreements are very welcome as we seek to grow our trade and investment links with China and ultimately create jobs," he said.