Irish firms seek to unlock China market at Hainan expo

Irish pavilion at key Chinese trade fair showcasing State’s food and drink offering as well as its healthcare, fashion and technology firms

Hainan Expo 2024

In the middle of a vast, hangar-like space on a tropical island in the South China Sea on Saturday, stewards linked hands to control the crowd surrounding a replica Norman castle. This was the official opening of the Irish pavilion at the China International Consumer Products Expo in Haikou, where Ireland is guest of honour this year.

Painted a deep shade of green, the pavilion had a row of whiskey bars along one side and food producers led by Kerry on the other, with a couple of dozen other companies occupying stands in between. Apart from food and drink, the pavilion showcased Irish healthcare, fashion and technology firms as well as State bodies such as Culture Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

“I suppose really what we’d like is to meet buyers here and to make introductions, hopefully maybe start getting some small sample orders just to get your feet on the ground. I’ve also got a lot to learn about the Chinese market,” said Sharon Hoey whose And Tate is one of the Irish fashion brands at the Expo.

Haikou is the capital of the island province of Hainan, which China is developing as a free trade port with generous tax breaks for business and more flexible regulations. The city is also home to the biggest duty-free mall in the world and Hainan’s duty free shopping was of particular interest to Tom Keightley from St Patrick’s Distillery in Cork.


“A lot of the business won’t be done at the show. It’s the introductions that are done at the show,” he said.

“When the show is over, we’ll go and visit the people that we know that are genuine, that we feel that we can do business with, and we’ll spend a day or maybe two days with them. And even if we only get three or four clients out of the show, it would be really good for the business.”

Finbarr Cleary has been doing business in China for many years but he was hoping to meet new suppliers for Shamrock GreenTech, a green technology company. He said that for products such as solar panels, inverters, EV chargers, heat pumps and air pumps, China now beats most competitors for quality as well as price.

“China is not cheap any more, but China’s quality has increased 200 per cent or 300 per cent. They have brought up the quality of the standard for export so that that they’re able to compete on quality, and price-wise they’re still able to compete,” he said.

Wen Chen from the Ireland China Science and Technology Association said the Expo gave Ireland an opportunity to build on its position as a hub for Chinese technology companies in Europe.

“The Irish people and the Irish Government, they are friendly, especially friendly with the Chinese. Secondly, Ireland is traditionally strong in ICT, pharmaceuticals, data centres, and also recently the AI cloud computing sectors that attract the high tech companies,” he said.

Tim Crowe first worked in China many years ago when he set up a supply chain for Dell to build desktop computers to sell to Europe and the United States. It was the experience of seeing the problems that arose in factories that inspired him and others to set up the software company WrxFlo.

“We give a real-time view of the entire supply chain and we make it work really efficiently and maximise the value from that,” he said.

Crowe opened a Beijing office for WrxFlo last week and he sees big opportunities in China to provide services to Chinese companies but also to bring innovative technology back to Europe. He was one of a number of exhibitors at the Expo who identified the introduction of visa-free access for Irish visitors to China as an important step but he believes that opening the office in Beijing is an essential move for his company.

“If I was in China and I was looking to an Irish company that was putting a presence in here, you’re very far away. How are you going to support me? How are you going to implement your solutions? That’s why we’re putting in the office. We build a team here so that the businesses that we work with know that they can go to the local team and be supported here. I think that’s really important if we’re going to win new business,” he said.