Kenny to visit China in March


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has accepted an invitation issued by China’s vice-president Xi Jinping to visit the Asian superpower next month.

Addressing the China-Ireland Trade and Investment Forum at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, this morning, Mr Kenny responded positively to Mr Xi’s offer.

“I very much welcome the opportunity to visit China next month following our meeting,” Mr Kenny said. “I can assure you all that I will be delighted to play my part in enhancing trade and investment between Chinese and Irish companies.”

Mr Xi issued the invitation at a meeting with Government representatives at Dublin Castle last night.

“We had very fruitful discussions in our meeting, and we also concluded a number of important Memoranda of Understanding between Ireland and China in the areas of investment, education and business,” Mr Kenny said today.

He said Ireland and China are “on a firm pathway to ever deeper and stronger bilateral relations” between the two countries.

“Yes, Ireland is a small country. We have a population of just 4.5 million people, a number dwarfed by the size of any one of dozens of Chinese cities alone, never mind the entire country.”

The Taoiseach said Ireland may be small, but it has great strengths, not least being a member of the European Union and the only English speaking member of the euro zone. “The Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2013 represents an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate the contribution Ireland can and does make at the heart of decision-making in Europe.”

Mr Kenny also said Ireland has a very powerful global diaspora, with over 70 million people around the world who claim to be Irish.

“Many of that diaspora are in the United States of America, and those interpersonal links between Ireland and America have helped to establish footholds in Ireland for many US companies serving markets in Europe and beyond,” the Taoiseach said.

In his address to the forum, Mr Xi said China offered “tremendous business opportunities” for Irish and other foreign companies.

“Irish business people are known for their hard work and enterprising spirit. I hope that business people from both countries will seize the opportunities and deepen our economic and trade co-operation.”

He said bilateral trade, especially trade in services, should be expanded and advanced.

“We welcome Irish entrepreneurs to take an active part in the first China international fair for trade and services, to be held in Beijing in May,” he said. “Ireland has seen in exports an engine for its economic growth. It is a country strong in trade and services. This bodes well for our co-operation. We hope that we can pool our assets, build on what we already have, to further expand our trade.”

Commenting on the international situation, he said the global economy was undergoing “complex and profound” changes.

“The far-reaching impact of the international financial crisis continues to be felt. The world economic recovery remains an uphill struggle,” he said.

“It is all the more urgent for countries around the world to enhance mutual trust and cooperation to meet challenges together. China is a reliable friend for Ireland and other European countries to address crisis and achieve recovery.”

Mr Xi said China will continue to support the efforts of EU, IMF and ECB to address European debt problems. “We believe that Europe has wisdom, capability and ways, to overcome difficulties and herald fresh progress,” Mr Xi said, according to an interpreter.

The forum was organised by Enterprise Ireland in conjunction with the IDA, Bord Bia and Science Foundation Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Frank Ryan said exports to China grew by 10 per cent in 2010 to €251 million. He said initial estimates for last year show exports up by a further 10 per cent with the agency aiming to increase this to 15 per cent this year. “China is a priority market for Enterprise Ireland and we’re working intensively with Irish companies to help them access growth opportunities in China,” he said.

Mr Ryan added that over 200 Irish companies currently export to China, with 140 of them having offices in the country.

Outside the Royal Hospital, a small number of protesters from the Tibetan Youth Congress held up banners and chanted slogans against Chinese policies on Tibet.

Earlier, Mr Xi met President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin. He also visited Leinster House to meet Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Sean Barrett and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Paddy Burke.

This morning, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore confirmed Mr Kenny’s intention to visit China next month and said the new economic and trade links signed between the countries would be followed up by a number of high-profile Irish Government visits to China.

Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn will visit over St Patrick’s week, followed by a visit by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney. Mr Gilmore will lead a trade delegation later in the year.

Mr Gilmore said the improvement of Sino-Irish relations has been a target of the Government.

“The visit this weekend hasn’t happened out of the blue - we’ve been working at this," he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “The Government has been pursuing an Asia strategy which is to increase Ireland’s trade and investment interests in China."