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Speech by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. at the Ireland - China Trade and Investment Forum, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, on Monday 20 February, 2012 at 11.20am

Introductory remarks.

Vice President Xi Jinping, Ambassadors, Distinguished visitors and guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to extend a warm greeting to our many Chinese guests here today.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Vice President Xi and several of his colleagues in Dublin Castle yesterday evening.  

We had very fruitful discussions in our meeting, and we also concluded a number of important MOUs between Ireland and China in the areas of investment, education and business.   I am convinced that we are on a firm pathway to ever deeper and stronger bilateral relations between our two countries.

I also want to extend a very warm welcome to the representatives of the wide range of Irish companies and organisations who are gathered here today.

I commend the great work done by Enterprise Ireland and the other agencies involved in promoting closer links between Ireland and China, including IDA Ireland, Bord Bia and Tourism Ireland, in putting together such an impressive event.

Enterprise Ireland has asked me to acknowledge, in particular, the close working relationship and support they receive from the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade in China and to thank them for coordinating the Business Delegation here today.

Bilateral partnership.

Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes people question the prospect of a close partnership between a small island off the North-west coast of Europe and the world’s largest nation on the opposite side of the globe.

But for me, it is not simply a question of whether a country is large or small, east or west.  Rather, it is a matter of knowing your strengths, and how you exercise them. 

That is why the prospect of greater relations between Ireland and China, in my opinion, makes perfect sense for both of our nations.

Yes, Ireland is a small country. We have a population of just 4.5 million people, a number dwarfed by the size of any one of dozens of Chinese cities alone, never mind the entire country.

But, though we may be small, we undoubtedly have great strengths.

We are an active Member of the European Union, the second biggest trading block on the globe, with its total population of 500 million consumers. 

We enjoy tariff and border free trade across the European Union’s internal market, and we are the only English speaking member of the eurozone, which accounts for two-thirds of that market. 

But our strengths reach beyond Europe.  Indeed, though our population today numbers just 4.5 million, there are over 70 million people around the world who claim to be Irish.   Admittedly, that is still quite small by Chinese standards, but nonetheless it is a very powerful global diaspora for Ireland.

Many of that diaspora are in the United States of America, and those interpersonal links between Ireland and America have helped to establish footholds in Ireland for many US companies serving markets in Europe and beyond.  

But those companies are established and profitable in Ireland not for reasons of sentimentality but because they know the unique package we have to offer:

- a business friendly environment;

- a fair and transparent taxation system;

- a well-educated, flexible and dynamic workforce, and

- the agility and ease of access to Government that comes from being a small country.

These same factors enable so many Irish companies to export so successfully to key European and global markets.

I believe that the outstanding advantages that Ireland has to offer for overseas companies and investors today represent an enormous opportunity for China.  

I also believe that there are tremendous prospects for Irish companies wishing to do business with and in China.

The relationship between Ireland and China is a relatively new one. But in the thirty-three years since we first established diplomatic relations, the progress we have made together is very encouraging.

Trade and investment.

Since Ireland and China first exchanged diplomatic relations in 1979, bi-lateral trade has grown to over €5 billion.

Close business links between our countries were further encouraged by the establishment of a double taxation agreement between China and Ireland in 2000.

I am happy to say that China is now Ireland’s 10


largest trading partner and our biggest in Asia.

It is a source of great pride to us that we are successful in winning business in China.  I believe it reflects many things that we have in common.  You just have to look a little beyond our respective sizes to find them!

We are both countries with long and illustrious histories and tradition.  We share a love of art and culture, and we each have a great sense of family, and of connectedness with our people.

There are also many similarities in the journeys that our two countries have taken.   We have both moved toward a knowledge-based economy built on innovation and technology, achieving significant economic growth.

I am convinced that now is the opportunity for a great strengthening and deepening of the already very solid relationship between us.

The strength of the attendance here today is indicative of the strong desire among Irish companies to enhance the trade and partnership between our two countries.

These companies are drawn from a wide range of Irish industry – Education Services, Aviation Services, Financial Services, Life Sciences, Medical Devices, Construction related Services & food and drink.  They are all focused on further developing the vibrant, dynamic trade partnership between our two countries. 

China is a modern, dynamic and consumer driven economy that is one of our top international priorities for business development. 

Ireland is strongly aware of the wealth of opportunities for Irish and Chinese business to work together and to generate income and value. 

More than 130 Irish companies now have offices in China, employing some 10,000 Chinese workers locally.  Small or large, these companies are making an important contribution to the Chinese economy. 

To take just one example, building materials group CRH is supplying materials and technology for much of China’s major infrastructural development.

Ireland’s modern and dynamic industrial profile continues to produce advanced, high quality products across sectors such as food, telecommunications, e-Learning, education and financial services that are in demand all over the world.

The Irish Government and representative bodies in education and business are committed to actively supporting the further development of trade and technology links between Ireland and China.

There is an ongoing programme of trade and education missions as well as numerous reciprocal visits between Irish and Chinese Government Ministers, all of which are helping to build our relationship and the exchanges between our two countries.

For my own part, I very much welcome the opportunity to visit China next month following our meeting yesterday.  I can assure you all that I will be delighted to play my part in enhancing trade and investment between Chinese and Irish companies.

Responding to the financial crisis.

I am confident that Ireland is successfully responding to the global financial crisis.  My Government has been working intensively with our partners in Europe to move the European Union beyond the current economic challenges and back onto the path of recovery and growth.

Here at home, we are making very real progress in addressing our economic and financial challenges.  It is less than one year since my Government took office.  In that time, we have taken decisive and effective action.

We have restructured and recapitalised our banking sector, with private investments and deposits now flowing back into our banks.

We are pursuing a solid plan to bring our public finances back into order, and yields in Irish government bonds have more than halved since last July.

We have reduced expenditure and raised revenues, without increasing income taxes.

We are on target to correct our budget deficit and our actions are sending strong signals to the financial markets about our determination to stick to our plan. 

This is recognised, not just by the Troika of the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission who have once again confirmed that we are meeting our targets and commitments, but by our peers and international markets.

In international economic, business and political circles, talk of Ireland is no longer about difficulties but of recovery and opportunity.

In 2011, growth returned to Ireland for the first time in several years. That gradual growth is scheduled to continue this year and competitiveness is improving rapidly.  

Our exports are at record levels and sectors where we excel – pharmaceuticals, software, financial services, business services and the agri-food industry – are performing especially well.

Ireland returned to a current account surplus in 2011 for the first time in many years.


The Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2013 represents an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate the contribution Ireland can and does make at the heart of decision-making in Europe. 

Just three weeks ago, we agreed a new Treaty to further strengthen budgetary discipline and coordination within the euro area in a verifiable manner.

More binding and enforceable fiscal rules are good both for Ireland and for the eurozone.  But they must go hand-in-hand with greater efforts to support growth and jobs.

That is why I, with other members of the European Council, have insisted that we put sustainable growth and the creation of jobs back at the top of the EU agenda.

I welcome China’s support for the steps we are taking, and for your confidence in Europe and the eurozone.

Irelandas a business location.

Whatever the current difficulties at home and in Europe, which we are determined to overcome, Ireland still remains a prime location for doing business and is more competitive than ever.

Very encouragingly, the global business community recognises Ireland's many attractions as a location for doing business.

The IBM Global Location Trends Report rates Ireland as the best location in the world for the value of projects and investments.

The World Bank 2011 "Doing Business" Report says we provide the most supportive business environment in the euro area.

The IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook awarded us three firsts for 2011 - for corporate taxes, business legislation for foreign investors, and the availability of skilled labour.

And the Ernst and Young Globalisation Index for 2011 found Ireland to be the most globalised country in the western world. On a worldwide basis, Ireland ranks number two, second only to Hong Kong.

I am determined that we will continue to be a world leading location for business and investment. My goal is for Ireland to be the best small country in the world in which to do business, by 2016.

- We will work to ensure that Ireland continues to offer an exceptionally young, well educated and flexible workforce;

- We will continue to invest in research, development and innovation;

- We will maintain our 12.5% Corporation Tax rate for business;

- We will cut unnecessary red tape; and

- we will provide supports to growing small and medium enterprises as well as to external investors.

To assist Chinese companies and investors take full advantage of what Ireland has to offer, IDA Ireland has increased its presence in China, operating offices in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

IDA also supports existing clients and makes connections for client companies within Ireland, and assists companies with their entry visa, work permit and green card requirements.

Almost 1,000 overseas companies – including some of the world’s best known brands – choose Ireland as the hub of their European networks today.


One of the strongest links between Ireland and China is in education.  Ireland has a reputation as a centre of quality education and training.

International activities of Irish institutions and organisations cover a wide range of areas such as medicine, accountancy, engineering, management and professional, business studies and language.

There are now around 5,000 Chinese students in third level education in Ireland with many more studying on English language courses.   Chinese students are the largest cohort of international students in Ireland from outside the EU.

14 Irish institutes have their own offices in China, including all seven Irish Universities.  Irish universities and other education institutes now have over 120 Joint programmes in place with Chinese Universities. 

For example, the University College Dublin Confucius Centre was established in 2006 as a joint venture with Hanban and Renmin University while the University College Cork Confucius Centre was established in 2007 as a joint venture with Shanghai University. 

Ireland is a highly entrepreneurial culture with a very high volume of business start-ups.  The Irish Government, through Enterprise Ireland, is now the largest VC in Europe in terms of the number of investments made. 

Ireland is not only fostering its own entrepreneurs – We are also interested in attracting successful Chinese entrepreneurs to set up their next venture in Ireland. 

As a world leader in key innovative sectors (including ICT, Life Sciences, Gaming and Financial Services) and a perfect location from which to serve key world markets like the US, Europe and the Middle East, Ireland is the ideal location for innovative, technologically advanced start-ups.



Vice President Xi, ladies and gentlemen:

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of wishing the Chinese Community in Ireland a happy new year as we ushered in the Chinese New Year, the year of the dragon.

I understand that some of the traits associated with the year of the dragon are enterprise and innovation, passion and perseverance.

I can think of a no more fitting way to end my remarks here today than by saying that I am confident that Ireland-China relations can be taken forward, in this Year of the Dragon, in a spirit of those qualities: of enterprise, of innovation, of passion, and of perseverance.

Thank you.


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