Ireland committed to strengthening China ties

"We see this (Belt and Road Initiative) as part of China's policy to open up to the rest of the world, which is a good news for China and also for Europe and Ireland."

Simon Coveney, deputy prime minister of Ireland

Ireland, the only English-speaking country in the Eurozone, has become a hub for many multinational corporations because of its low taxes and business-friendly incentives. It provides a favorable springboard to the European Union.

Shanghai Daily recently interviewed Simon Coveney, deputy prime minister of Ireland and also minister for foreign affairs and trade, with special responsibilities for Brexit. He shared his views on bilateral trade between Ireland and China.

Q: What opportunities does Brexit bring to Ireland in terms of finance and foreign trade?

A: First of all, we think Brexit is a bad idea that is not going to be good for the European Union, Britain or Ireland. So we need negotiations to try to protect the close economic and political relationship between Britain and Ireland, and also between Britain and the EU.

Having said that, Britain is leaving the European Union. I think there will be opportunities for Ireland, particularly in terms of hosting companies and businesses that want to be part of the European single market, that want an English-speaking country, that want a country based on a common law system and that want a stable country in terms of trade. So I do think there are opportunities in financial services, high-end manufacturing, technology and research, particularly around businesses that rely on data and data protection.

Q: According to Eurostat, China ranks sixth among your major trade partners in imports and eighth in exports. Does Ireland want to enhance trade with China and other Asian-Pacific regions in the future?

A: Total trade between Ireland and China increased by 16 percent between 2015 and 2016, to 12.9 billion euros (US$15.34 billion). It is expected that 2017 statistics will show a rise to about 15 billion euros. That would mean that overall trade between Ireland and China has more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, led mainly by a jump in Irish exports.

Priority sectors for Ireland in China are agriculture, education, financial services, science and technology, and culture and tourism. It is significant that the areas of innovation, green technology, higher education, research and technology are all strongly prioritized in China’s national development plan. These priorities match very closely with Ireland’s major strengths. Sino-Irish complementary areas will remain strong as the Chinese economy continues to grow. Therefore, Ireland will remain well placed to continue to grow its trade and investment links with China.

Q: How do you view China's “Belt and Road” initiative?

A: We see this as part of China's policy to open up to the rest of the world, which is a good news for China and also for Europe and Ireland. Our relationship with China has been very positive in recent years. We now have about 3,500 Chinese students in our universities, and we're starting to see Irish students in Chinese universities, particularly in Shanghai. The opening-up policy is very positive, particularly at a time when some countries in the world are moving away from free trade. The size and scale of China is so significant that it is going to be a big part of shaping the global economy in the future. The “Belt and Road” initiative is a big part of that. So I think we are at the start of what can be a very positive journey in terms of mutual benefit for both China and Ireland.

Q: A promotional meeting for the November China International Import Expo was held in Dublin on March 7. Do you think this kind of exhibition helps promote bilateral trade?

A: I think it's a good idea because it can bring people together. Ten years ago, many Irish companies would never have seen China as a market, but now things are very different. Irish people see China as a place with great opportunities. And I hope it's the same story in the other direction -- that Chinese companies now see Ireland as a place where international investment is welcome and where a global trade platform provides an entry into the EU that Chinese companies can be part of.

The way to really bring this relationship to life is to make sure that people meet each other. That is why we are increasing our presence here in terms of agencies, government representatives, support for Irish companies expanding internationally, and organizations focusing on bringing non-Irish companies to Ireland. So you will see Irish presence in the trade fairs planned in Shanghai, and I hope we'll see a strong Chinese presence in trade fairs in Ireland.

Q: In terms of technology and innovation, how do you see opportunities for Shanghai to collaborate with Ireland?

A: We've already seen some collaboration, and we would like to see a lot more. Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, has been a sister city of Shanghai since 2005. It is a big hub for technology companies. Apple, for example, employs 6,000 people in the city. So we think that projects like the serious “twinning” of cities can be a source of new opportunities and new partnerships between universities or companies, particularly in the areas of technology and innovation. Ireland has lots of entrepreneurs creating new companies every day on the basis of good ideas, technology and innovation. That is the kind of mindset that Shanghai excels in because this is a city all about innovation, change and modernization.


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