Jobs are in focus as China's next leader plans tour of farms and firms
BUSINESS chiefs will use a three-day visit here by Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping to make a concerted pitch to boost trade between the two countries.
Ireland has failed to exploit China's position as the world's second-largest economy. And, as a result, China accounts for only 3pc of our total exports, which is small by international standards.
Enterprise Ireland has identified China as a potential major trading partner with two-way trade currently standing at €5bn a year.
Ireland imported goods worth €2.46bn in the first 11 months of last year and exported a further €2.25bn worth, according to the latest trade figures published earlier this week.
Imports of food and drink form a fraction of the total while equipment makes up the bulk of all trade.
Irish companies are likely to sign a number of "door-opening" agreements with Mr Xi, the Chinese vice president, over the weekend.
Mr Xi arrives in Shannon this afternoon following a trip to the US, which saw Chinese firms place orders for farm produce worth billions of dollars.
The visit comes as China worries about food supplies for its 1.3 billion inhabitants. Chinese and American officials have agreed a five-year strategic co-operation to focus on long-term food security.
Mr Xi's visit to the US included a 4,000-acre soyabean farm where he spoke of his "special feeling" for farmers and rural communities.
During his stay here, Mr Xi will attend the Ireland-China Trade and Investment Forum at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, on Monday.
Enterprise Ireland said exports by Irish indigenous
firms to China grew by 10pc to €251m in 2010 and an estimated further 10pc growth to €276m in 2011 when the final figures are totted up.
"There's just enormous potential," Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said yesterday.
"This is a significant visit politically, but also at this point in Ireland's recovery path."
Mr Gilmore said he would be selling Ireland to Mr Xi as a strategically located country within the EU, which was part of the eurozone but also a "bridge" to Africa and the US.
More than 140 Irish companies have offices in China, employing some 10,000 Chinese workers in the region.
Enterprise Ireland said there were several areas where there were major opportunities for Irish companies in education, aviation, financial services, software and agri-machinery.
There are now 126 joint programmes in place between Irish and Chinese universities, with around 5,000 Chinese students in third-level education here and many more taking English-language courses.
Gardai will put a discreet security operation in place with members of the emergency response unit providing protection for Mr Xi.
Extra uniformed personnel will also be on the streets for crowd control but officers do not expect any major traffic disruption. The Defence Forces have also put a number of contingency measures in place.
Mr Xi will have dinner with Mr Gilmore in Bunratty Castle this evening before spending the night at Dromoland Castle.
He will visit a farm at Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, tomorrow morning and then take in the Cliffs of Moher, a demonstration of GAA games in Croke Park, a dinner in Dublin Castle hosted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a private performance of Riverdance in the O'Reilly Theatre.
Amnesty International Ireland has written to the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste, urging them to deliver a clear and forceful message on human rights in China.
Noeleen Hartigan, programmes director of Amnesty International Ireland, said China's human rights record was appalling with a minimum of 190,000 people in "administrative detention", many in forced labour camps.
Members of the Irish Falun Dafa Association, which represents practitioners of the spiritual Falun Gong movement outlawed in China in 1999, are expected to use the occasion to call for an end to persecution.
WHy xi jinping should get our attention: james downey, page 26