President speaks of trade as China visit reaches Shanghai

China is Ireland’s sixth most important market for food and drink exports, Higgins says

President Michael D Higgins yesterday spoke of Ireland's past and present contributions to the globe's intellectual life and matters of trade as the mission to China moved to the nation's financial hub, Shanghai.

Ironically, the smog in Shanghai was worse than Beijing as the plane touched down — Shanghai is normally a more breathable city than Beijing when it comes to particulate pollution.

The President and Ms Sabina Higgins were met at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport by consul general Austin Gormley and Mrs Krassimira Gormley, and were whisked into town for a food sector lunch hosted by Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland.

At the lunch, the President pointed how Ireland’s excellent food safety record offered significant opportunities for the Irish food business.


Farming and the wider agrifood sector has been a big hit for Ireland in China, and last year, Irish food and drink products were exported to 120 countries around the world, including, of course, China.

“I am delighted to say that Irish food exports to China grew by over 40 per cent last year,” said Mr Higgins.

He added that China had become Ireland’s sixth most important market for food and drink exports, with dairy, pork, seafood and beverages at the heart of this growth..

Later, the President addressed a roomful of Chinese travel agents and media. Earlier this year, at an event in Shanghai, Ireland was chosen as the destination which offered the most potential for Chinese tourists at the annual Best Destination Awards.

"On accepting the award in Shanghai, Tourism Ireland stated their commitment to increasing the number of Chinese tourists to Ireland to 50,000 per year, over the next five years, from a figure of 17,000 in 2012. That is a great indication of the increasing and deepening connection that is building between our two nations," said Mr Higgins.

A major development on the tourist front had been the British-Irish visa scheme, which means Chinese with a short-stay visa from either country can visit both the United Kingdom and Ireland on a single visa, making travel easier.

In the afternoon, Mr Higgins visited the former residence of Sun Yat-sen, the architect of China’s first democratic republic, and his wife Song Qingling.

George Bernard Shaw

During his speech, the President repeated some telling quotes from Irish writers, many of whom he said chose exile to write better overseas.

One quote was from George Bernard Shaw, which Mr Higgins used when talking about his arrival in China in 1993 as Europe was falling apart.

“It is not for me, belonging as I do to a quarter of the globe which is mismanaging its affairs in a ruinous fashion to pretend to advise an ancient people striving to set its house in order,” he quoted Shaw as saying.

“He was aware of the role of contrarianism in writing,” said Mr Higgins. “And here’s something else, which was intellectual work, books and reflection, while they were edifying for yourself, they had to be delivered into the public world as an act of citizenship.”

Then turning to Oscar Wilde writing about ancient Chinese philosophy, Mr Higgins said that "it was important that people know the ideas of each other's countries, but also that they make new ideas and new visions for the freedom of their people."

Mr Higgins hailed the intellectual heights reached during the period, which included visits by prominent thinkers and scholars such as Bertrand Russell, Rabrinath Tagore and Albert Einstein, all of whom contributed to the intellectual and political ferment during and after China's "New Culture Movement", also known as the "May Fourth Movement".

Mr Higgins said when Shaw visited Shanghai it was “an era of great turbulence internationally”, but that during that period, Shaw had established the London School of Economics and the New Statesman. The President also spoke of how it was an era for Sun Yat-sen, in which China had established its ability to create freedom and democracy for itself.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing