Government to sign China trade deals during Xi visit

Sun, Feb 19, 2012, 00:00

The Government is to sign a number of trade agreements with China today on the second day of the visit by the country's vice president Xi Jinping.

The deals, aimed at making it easier for Irish companies to sell goods and services to China, will be signed when Mr Xi and his delegation visit Dublin Castle along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny this afternoon.

Earlier, Mr Xi visited a farm in Co Clare on the second day of his three-day trip.

The Chinese delegation was given a tour of the farm of James Lynch at Sixmilebridge this morning.

Irish Farmers’ Association president John Bryan said the Chinese leader’s interest in Irish agriculture was “hugely significant”.

“The success of the Chinese economy over the last decades is remarkable and testament to a country intent on improving the wellbeing of all its people,” Mr Bryan said.

“With Chinese prosperity and urbanisation comes a real opportunity for Irish agriculture.”

Mr Bryan encouraged Irish agri-businesses to intensify their efforts to build relations with China and to “secure sustainable long-term markets for our dairy and meat products as Irish farmers move to increase production in the years ahead”.

He complimented the Government and other agencies on securing what he said was “such an important trade visit”

Mr Xi was greeted on his arrival at Shannon yesterday by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and later visited the offices of Shannon Development, and attended a traditional banquet at Bunratty Castle.

His delegation, which includes about 150 Chinese businessmen, landed at 4.15pm and he disembarked at 4.30pm to be greeted by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.

The Tánaiste told the Chinese leader that Ireland attached "great importance to widening and deepening our bilateral relations". He hoped the visit would be the starting point of an enhanced relationship between the two countries.

Today Mr Xi will visit the Cliffs of Moher. He will then travel to Dublin, where he will meet President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other political leaders.

He will visit Croke Park for a demonstration of Gaelic games, and later this evening he will attend a performance of Riverdance.

Business links between China and Ireland will be explored at the Trade and Investment Forum in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham tomorrow.

It is expected he will sign a number of trade agreements with the Government today to help Irish businesses sell into China and vice-versa.

Mr Gilmore hopes to sell Ireland to Mr Xi as a strategically located country within the European Union, which is part of the eurozone but also as a bridge to Africa and the US.

The Government’s 'Asia strategy' has highlighted lucrative opportunities to export food and drink to China, particularly for the country’s growing middle classes who have increasingly more money to spend.

Other industries being targeted are pharmaceuticals, IT, medical devices, tourism and education. There have also been suggestions of possible cooperation on alternative energy research.

The Irish Falun Dafa Association plans to stage a protest outside Dublin Castle during the official ceremony.

Amnesty International Ireland also said it was crucial the Government makes clear the concerns of many Irish people about human rights abuses.

Among the cases Amnesty has asked the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to raise are those of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, found guilty of inciting subversion of state power, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who is in state custody, and whose relatives have been told is undergoing a three-month “education period”.

The Irish Anti-War movement said trade links with China should not come at "any price".

war Movement expressed concern at the indulgent manner in which China’s vice president Xi Jinping was being welcomed in Ireland by the Government and the media.

It said Mr Xi was a representative of "a dictatorship that denies basic human rights to almost all of its citizens".

"The Chinese government, which remains a one party state, brutally suppressed pro democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and it continually suppresses people with unorthodox religious beliefs, such as the Falun Gong movement, and dissidents who speak out against the human rights record of the government, such as the prominent artist Ai Weiwei," the organisation said.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said it seemed "extraordinary" that Mr Xi would be in Ireland for three days and yet not speak a word to the media, or be questioned about his country's record on human rights or on workers' rights.

Ahead of his visit, Mr Xi struck a bullish note on the prospects for economic recovery in the euro area, saying he thought the difficulties in Europe were “temporary”.

“China does not think one should ‘talk down’ or ‘short’ to Europe, because we believe that the difficulties facing Europe are temporary, and the EU and the governments and people across Europe have the ability, the wisdom, and the means, to solve the sovereign debt problem and achieve economic recovery and growth,” Mr Xi said in an exclusive interview with The Irish Times.

“China takes its relationship with Europe as one of the strategic priorities of its diplomacy, and supports the process of European integration and the efforts of EU members, Ireland included, to overcome difficulties and achieve economic recovery,” Mr Xi said.

“We have offered sincere help to our European friends as our ability permits in line with our means, through increased mutual investment and business co-operation.”

Europe is China’s biggest export market. Beijing has been concerned by the situation in Europe and has repeatedly urged EU leaders to get a grip on the situation.

Turning to his own country, where economic growth is slowing to single-digit figures and is expected to expand 8.5 per cent this year, Mr Xi he said he expected a soft landing for the Chinese economy.

There has been speculation that China could slow down fast and hard, but he rejected these concerns.

Mr Xi said he believed his visit would help intensify the mutual benefits of co-operation between China and Ireland. He said the focus of the co-operation would be at a high level and on certain sectors, such as biotechnology, agriculture and communication technology.

He also said there should be more intensive cultural and people-to- people exchanges, especially as Ireland hosts the most Chinese students per capita in the EU.

Mr Xi is widely expected to succeed president Hu Jintao, who must retire as head of the Communist Party later this year and from the presidency in 2013.

Additional reporting: PA