The news that China has struck a deal with Fonterra to establish a joint Dairy Exchange Centre may not have come as a surprise to many within the Irish milk industry. However, in the view of yours truly, it highlights a missed opportunity for Ireland plc. At one level last week’s Sino: Kiwi deal confirms the fact that China is looking for proven research and development expertise in order to develop its dairy farming and mil processing sectors. But at the same time it begs the question: why are we here in Ireland not getting a share of this action?
Consider the facts: Ireland is home to one of the world’s best agri teaching universities – UCD. And, courtesy of Teagasc, we have at our disposal a world renowned agri food R&D centre of excellence. Last week I sat down and listened to Teagasc’s Professor Paul Ross, who spoke at the AFBI Dairy Conference in Belfast. Courtesy of his presentation he gave an excellent insight into the work his research team is carrying out across a wide range of innovative dairy product development and related matters. Surely China would want to get access to this type of innovative development work for its own milk sector? Throw in what is being achieved at farm level by Teagasc, in terms of both blue sky and applied research, and the case for making forging a bilateral agri/food research and development agreement with China becomes extremely strong indeed.
And, of course, links of this nature will, almost certainly, open op new trade opportunities between the two countries.
But, of course, Teagasc and UCD are not the only potential Irish partner with which China could become directly aligned to. Take the Kerry Group as an example. Its new €multi-million research and development research is fast taking shape on the outskirts of Naas. Surely it will have the potential and capacity to offer the Chinese a unique R&D resource. Such a development would help Kerry in the short term, courtesy of the fees it would draw down from China with the added bonus of securing realistic import terms with China when it came to putting product on to that market in the longer term.
Moreover, any structured linkages that are forged between China and Ireland’ agri food sectors gives our colleagues from the East a direct link into the entire EU policy development and administrative network.
But, perhaps , my comments on this subject are a bit premature. Two years ago exactly An Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited China. This was followed up with a visit to Ireland by China’s Deputy Premir Ma Kai last October. Surely the powers-that-be took both these opportunities to tell the Chinese of our wonderful centres of agri/food research excellence. Let’s hope so!