Speech by Mr Dermot Ahern, TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs at a business lunch co-hosted with Enterprise Ireland for His Excellency Huang Ju, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China
Your Excellency Mr Huang Ju, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Vice Ministers, Ambassador, Distinguished Guests from China, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to host this lunch in your honour together with Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s Trade and Technology Board. I am particularly happy to see that so many of our companies and educational institutions with business interests in China are here to meet you.
This year we celebrate twenty-five years of diplomatic relations. In that time we have achieved much. Political, economic, cultural and people-to-people contacts have led to a growing awareness and better mutual understanding.
In the past twenty-five years both Ireland and China have been transformed through rapid economic growth. You, yourself, played a key role in the impressive development of Shanghai; and you now have responsibility and continuing interest in financial and economic reform. I hope that the meetings and discussions during your visit to Ireland will provide you with useful insights of Ireland’s experience of economic development.
You have just come from a visit to the International Financial Services Centre. You saw there a prestigious integrated development which incorporates superb office accommodation, educational institutions, executive housing, restaurants and shopping facilities. It has expanded beyond its original site and has become a vital part of the wider Irish economy, employing 16,000 people. In total, there are almost 450 international financial institutions operating from Dublin with a further 700 managed entities carrying on business under the IFSC program.
Dublin is now a world-class centre for a wide range of internationally traded financial services. I hope, Mr Vice Premier, that as a result of your visit we will see a number of financial companies from China locating here as they expand their operations into Europe.
China is now one of Ireland’s largest trading partners: our exports to China, including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, amounted to €1.6 billion in 2003 and imports were €3.4 billion. In fact, China is now Ireland’s 7th largest trading partner. And, it will become even more important as a market for Irish products and services and as a source of raw materials, parts and components for our manufacturing industry.
Following the launch of the Asia Strategy by the Taoiseach in 1999, there has been a significant growth in the number of Irish companies that visit, do business and are represented in China. Enterprise Ireland, our Embassy in Beijing and Consulate-General in Shanghai, and my own Department work together closely to help Irish companies to identify export opportunities in China, to develop the contacts and to make arrangements for successfully working in this large and exciting market.
In October last, President McAleese paid a State visit to China in which almost 90 companies representing a cross section of Irish industry participated. At the moment, our officials are planning the mission that will accompany the Taoiseach when he visits China in January 2005, reciprocating the successful visit of Premier Wen Ji Bao (pronounced WEN JAH BAOU) to Ireland earlier this year.
Just as is the case in Ireland, education is an important aspect of China’s economic strategy. This has resulted in an increase in the number of Chinese studying abroad and education links with China have seen remarkable growth. There has been a large and welcome increase in the number of Chinese students here in Ireland and also in the strategic alliances between world-class Chinese and Irish universities. These links will provide huge benefits to both our countries in the future.
The Irish companies here today are keen to increase sales to China. In addition, there is clear scope for Irish and Chinese companies to join forces to open up new market opportunities in the wider Asia Pacific region whose fast-developing economies are a prime target for us. Today’s successful companies must think in terms of global customers and global opportunities. The most effective way to achieve sales growth is through the creation of strategic alliances among export-led companies.
There are already a number of such alliances between Irish and Chinese companies but there is scope for more and better linkages. Just as I mentioned for Financial Services, Ireland offers excellent opportunities to Chinese companies who are seeking partnerships to do business within the European Union.
Finally, as the economic and political relationship between our two countries grows, we will see an increase in visitors between Ireland and China. More and more Irish tourists are going to China to learn about its fascinating history and culture. I am optimistic too that we can encourage more Chinese tourists to visit Ireland. We have much to offer and we have signed an Approved Destination Status Agreement with China which will facilitate tourism.
Mr Vice Premier, I wish you well on the rest of your visit and I hope that your experience here will encourage you to recommend Ireland as a location for industrial and financial co operation and that you will also recommend your tourists to come and enjoy our Irish hospitality.