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China, Ireland sign agricultural deals

By Zhao Yinan in Shannon, Ireland | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-05-18 12:32

Premier Li traveling with wife stops off in Emerald Isle before heading out on four-nation Latin America tour

China and Ireland signed deals to facilitate the trade of agricultural products after Premier Li Keqiang met his Irish counterpart on Sunday.

Li, accompanied by his wife Cheng Hong, was on an overnight stop in the European country before traveling onto Brazil, the first leg of a Latin-American visit that also will take him to Colombia, Peru and Chile.

"I hope my stop in Ireland could bring even closer ties between the two countries and peoples," Li said after arriving at the Shannon Airport.

Experts said the deal signed during the brief stop could boost the export of dairy and beef products to China, where consumers are seeking a more diversified and healthier diet as disposable incomes increase.

Imports of dairy products increased 18 percent in 2014, despite rising prices caused by a severe drought in New Zealand, after growing at more than 20 percent each year for five consecutive years.

Irish dairy products, 80 percent of which are exported, have gained less attention from Chinese consumers than those from Australia and New Zealand.

When meeting Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister, Li called for Ireland to further streamline its visa-application procedures for students, business people and tourists, and said China is willing to cooperate with Ireland in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and information technology.

"China is glad to see a recovering, better-integrated Europe, and a stronger and more consolidated European Union," Li said.

Kenny, who flew from Dublin to meet the Chinese leader, said Ireland is willing to strengthen cooperation with China in trade, agriculture, finance, aviation leasing, clean energy and other sectors.

China has been Ireland's largest trading partner in Asia for seven years. In the first 10 months of 2014, Irish investment in China reached more than $400 million.

During Irish President Michael Higgins' trip to China in December, the two countries signed intergovernmental and corporate deals worth more than $15 million.

Ireland, recovering from a financial crisis that hurt its banks and property market, is seeking to diversify its sources of foreign investment away from Washington, which has long contributed a major part of Dublin's foreign direct investment, said Chen Fengying, director of the World Economy Institute at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

She said China, which is a less traditional partner of the European country, is forging closer ties with Ireland in recent years, with more personal exchanges and trade.

China replaced Australia to become the top market in the Asia-Pacific region for small and medium-sized Irish enterprises, according to Shanghai-based Enterprise Ireland, a government agency overseeing the development and growth of Irish enterprises across the world.

There are already 2,400 Irish students in China and 2,700 Chinese students in the colleges and institutions in Ireland.

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