I was in Dublin last week for the first time in almost 20 years for a session with the Institute of International and European Affairs, the same week as the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Ireland. A highly interactive session focused first on the robustness of China’s economy and then on China’s myriad connections with Ireland. I had not realized until I was preparing for my discussion that Ireland is one of very few European countries that runs a trade surplus with China. The open part of the discussion is online here.
In the Q&A, the audience focused on the benefits and risks that rapid development of new and parallel industries online can bring to China, especially the challenges of retail disruption, perhaps in recognition of Ireland’s boom and bust in retail over the last two decades. There were also questions about the impact, sustainability and direction of the anti-corruption campaign.
As expected, a good deal of the business discussion was on the agricultural opportunities, especially in dairy. Here I think there is a real chance for much more growth. China’s demand for milk products is not going to abate and imports will be central long into the future. Attracting Chinese investors and partners to leverage Irish heritage and quality should be a truly winning combination. Further, Chinese drinkers consume spirits from all corners of the world, but I have very rarely seen Irish whisky on sale in China. Surely a missed opportunity?
In the afternoon session, we discussed how to grow Chinese tourism to Ireland. I pointed out that two basic markers were not yet in place. Leading hotels don’t yet all offer Chinese breakfast options, and while it is under discussion, there are still no direct flights. My discussion partners were disappointed that they had been told a flight from Dublin to Beijing would not be allowed. I pointed out how the new BA flight to Chengdu had opened up a whole population to direct flights to the UK and was proving very successful. I think it matters less exactly which city direct flights come from. Indeed, for Ireland, a connection to a major agricultural processing hub might be even more attractive than to one of the tier 1 cities.
I have met many representatives of the Irish government in China over the years. They have tended to impress with their commitment to promoting commercial opportunities for Chinese companies in Ireland. As more and more of China’s private sector leaders move internationally and more of them seek investment opportunities in value added agriculture, this should be a real window of opportunity for Ireland to increase inbound investment and exports at the same time.
Image credit: The Institute of International & European Affairs