I refer the Deputy to my reply to PQ37204.13 on 18 September. I undertook a political and trade mission to China (Beijing and Shanghai) from 30 July to 3 August 2013, at the invitation of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. The purpose of my visit was to strengthen the high-level political engagement necessary to deliver on the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Ireland and China. I also had a series of engagements focussed on supporting Irish companies doing business in China, promoting Ireland as a tourist destination, and promoting Ireland as the best investment location for Chinese businesses looking to expand in Europe. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between China and Ireland was adopted in March last year during the visit of the Taoiseach to China, and extends to all areas of our bilateral relationship including political, diplomatic, trade, investment, agriculture and food, education and tourism.
In the period since it was agreed, there has been impressive progress made in Irish-Chinese relations. Eight Irish Government Ministers have visited China promoting trade and other links. On the Chinese side, there have been visits to Ireland by ten Ministers or other senior figures in the Chinese administration. Irish trade with China is now worth over €8 billion a year, with a strong trade surplus in Ireland’s favour.
During my visit, I had a number of high-level political engagements, including with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Wang Yi; with a member of the State Council, Chairman Yu Zhengsheng; and with Minister Wang Jia Rui, Minister at the Communist Party International Department. At these meetings, I stressed the potential for increased investment and economic co-operation, and took the opportunity to promote Ireland as an education destination. I also raised the issue of access to the Chinese market for Irish beef. I had the opportunity also to discuss wider political issues, including human rights issues, EU-China relations, and current international developments.
During my visit, I announced that Ireland has secured full market access to China for salmon exports, which represents a sizeable opportunity for Irish salmon exporters, with demand for high-end seafood in China growing substantially each year. This followed intensive negotiations with the Chinese authorities by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in conjunction with the Irish Embassy in Beijing. Further, Dublin Airport Authority signed a twinning agreement during my visit to establish a Sister Airports partnership with Beijing Capital International Airport, which will allow the two companies to co-operate to further commercial and tourism links between the two cities. The agreement aims to enable the two airports to engage in a joint marketing initiative to improve airline services between Dublin and Beijing.
I held a number of engagements pursuing key priorities, including exports, food and agribusiness, education, tourism, targeting of investment, and support for Irish companies doing business in China. These included engagements organised by Tourism Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Bord Bia.
I had meetings with a number of Chinese companies interested in investing in Ireland and potential partners for Irish exporters. These included Shanghai Bright, Huawei, Yanhua, the Bank of Communications and ChinaCache. I addressed approximately one hundred Chinese and Irish partner company senior executives at a business event organised by Enterprise Ireland. This allowed me to present Ireland’s key strengths both as an investment destination and as a trading partner. I also witnessed the signing of a number of significant memoranda of understanding, including one between IDA Ireland and the Shanghai Foreign Investment Development Board, which has responsibility for outbound investment.
I attended networking events organised by the Irish Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate General in Shanghai, which provided the opportunity to meet a wide range of official, business and cultural contacts. I addressed a promotional event organised by Tourism Ireland in Shanghai which was attended by over 100 representatives of the Chinese travel industry, including airlines, travel agents, tour operators and media.
While in Shanghai, I addressed the Shanghai Returned Scholars Association, a non-government network of influential senior academics, business people and officials, as well as the graduates of the Ireland-Shanghai Senior Officials Training Programme, which has improved awareness of Ireland and our influence, including on trade/investment-related issues, among key municipal government commissions.