The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD, will today begin a four-day political and trade mission to China. The Tánaiste is travelling at the invitation of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, on what is the most senior visit by a member of the Government to China since that of the Taoiseach in March last year.

The visit – the first by the Tánaiste to China – will have a strong trade and investment focus as well as covering political and other bilateral matters.

As the world’s second largest economy, a strong relationship with China is vitally important in attracting investment and growing exports.

In Beijing, the Tánaiste will have discussions with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, and with Senior Communist Party leader, Chairman Yu Zhengsheng.

The Tánaiste will focus on delivering more from the strategic partnership agreement between Ireland and China, which was adopted in March last year.

Speaking ahead of his departure the Tánaiste said: “This is a significant visit coming at a critical time in Ireland’s economic recovery.  In the period since the strategic partnership agreement was reached there has been impressive progress made in Irish-Chinese relations.

“Irish trade with China is now worth more than €8bn a year, with a strong trade surplus in Ireland’s favour.  Enterprise Ireland has a target of €600m in exports by its client companies by 2016, having seen a 19 per cent increase during 2012 to €346m.  My visit to Beijing and Shanghai is an essential part of the work that the Government is doing on the ground in China to get us to that target.

“China is a priority market for Ireland and strengthening our relations with China – the world’s second largest economy – is critical to our exporters and to our economic recovery as a whole.

“The purpose of my visit is to strengthen the high-level political engagement necessary to deliver on the strategic partnership agreement to support Irish companies and to promote Ireland as the best investment location for Chinese businesses looking to expand in Europe.

He continued: “Among the issues I will be raising will be access to the Chinese market for Irish beef.  Following on from our successful Presidency of the EU, I will also be discussing progress in EU-China relations, including our dialogue on human rights.”

Since the strategic partnership agreement was adopted just over a year ago, seven Irish Government Ministers have visited China on trade missions.  On the Chinese side, there have been visits to Ireland by 10 Ministers or other senior figures in the Chinese administration.

In addition to the high-level political meetings – essential for promoting trade and investment in a centrally planned economy such as China – the Tánaiste’s programme will include:

· Targeted meetings with Chinese companies interested in investing in Ireland and potential partners for Irish exporters. Among the firms involved are Shanghai Bright, Huawei, Yanhua, the Bank of Communications, Shanghai Invest and ChinaCache.  It is expected that a number of agreements will be signed in the course of the visit.

· A promotional event with Tourism Ireland in Shanghai to be attended by more than 100 representatives of the Chinese travel industry, including airlines, travel agents and tour operators.

· Several business networking and investment events in Beijing and Shanghai with Irish State Agencies, their client companies and Chinese partners.  These are aimed at getting greater levels of two-way trade and investment for Irish and Chinese companies and investors and will include an event to promote food exports.

· A key-note address to SORSA, an influential Shanghai think-tank, that will cover Ireland’s perspective on EU recovery and engagement with China.

· The Tánaiste will also attend events at the Irish Embassy in Beijing and the Irish Consulate in Shanghai for key business and government contacts as well as members of the local Irish community and for Chinese graduates of Irish training programmes.

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