China's environmental crisis offers opportunities for Irish companies in the environmental products and waste management arena, Minister for Environment Alan Kelly said after a visit to the region, and Ireland needs to ramp up its presence in China to take advantage of the market.
“The capacity for many different sectors from an Irish perspective is ginormous. The potential for more is huge,” said Mr Kelly, whose portfolio also includes community and local government briefs.
During his visit, Mr Kelly visited the capital, Beijing, the financial capital, Shanghai, the special administrative region of Hong Kong and the former Portuguese enclave of Macau.
"The capacity here for Irish businesses is huge," Mr Kelly said at a reception for the Irish community in Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents Club, hosted by the new consul general, Peter Ryan.
“The engagement was huge, learning about technologies, learning about future technologies, air quality, water quality, soil quality, waste management. From a political level I’ve never seen such warmth,” he said.
Data last month from the environmental protection ministry showed that 90 per cent of Chinese cities failed to meet government standards.
Beijing’s mayor, Wang Hansen, said smog had made the capital “unlivable.”
There were similar opportunities on the environmental products and waste management side in Hong Kong and Macau for Irish companies, Mr Kelly said.
During the Beijing leg of his trip, he held talks with Chen Jining, who recently took the office as minister of environmental protection and is widely seen as a force to watch in coming years.
Mr Chen, who made his first public outing at the national people's congress in Beijing earlier this month, recently made headlines in China when he said a hard-hitting documentary, Under the Dome by the journalist Chai Jing, reminded him of the US environmentalist Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, which prompted a major surge in environmental awareness.
China could “not rely on the heavens” to solve its environmental woes, Mr Chen said, and needed better transparency and enforcement of laws to beat pollution.
This provides opportunities for Irish firms, said Mr Kelly, who met him for 75 minutes. The discussion ranged from air quality to climate change.
He also held three hours of talks with water resources minister Chen Lei.
Ireland is well served in greater China with Ambassador Paul Kavanagh, consul general Austin Gormley in Shanghai and Mr Ryan, who recently opened the consulate in Hong Kong, Mr Kelly said.
"We have the biggest market in the world here but we need to ramp up our presence across everything, here in Embassies, in Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, Dairy Board, and many other mechanisms," he added.