World / Highlights

Premier tours farm as food deal signed

By Zhao Yinan in Shannon, Ireland (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-19 07:39

Ireland greeted Premier Li Keqiang as if he were on a formal visit rather than just making a stopover, with Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, or prime minister, giving him a hearty welcome on Sunday.

Kenny and his wife, Fionnuala O'Kelly, flew from Dublin to meet Li and his wife, Cheng Hong, in Shannon, a town in the west of the country.

Li was making an overnight stop on his way to Brazil, the first leg of a Latin American tour that will also take him to Colombia, Peru and Chile.

Though time was limited, the leaders held talks, signed agreements and visited a farm. The two couples also enjoyed a private family dinner.

Li joked as he met the media with Kenny, saying, "The first stop of my visit is not Latin America, but Ireland."

The two countries signed an agreement to facilitate trade in agricultural products.

Experts said the deal could boost dairy and beef exports to China, where consumers are seeking a more diversified and healthier diet as disposable incomes increase.

Imports of dairy products increased by 17.9 percent last year, despite rising prices caused by a severe drought in New Zealand, after growing at more than 20 percent annually for five consecutive years.

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

Li called on Ireland to further streamline visa application procedures for students, businesspeople and tourists, and said China is willing to cooperate with Ireland over 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.

As exports to China account for 4 percent of Ireland's GDP, we thank Premier Li very much for stopping over in Ireland, Kenny said.

He said Ireland wants to strengthen cooperation with China over 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.

The countries signed intergovernmental and corporate deals worth more than $15 million during a visit to China by Irish President Michael Higgins in December.

Ireland, recovering from a financial crisis that devastated its banks and the 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.

China has replaced Australia as the biggest market in the Asia-Pacific region for small and medium-sized Irish enterprises.

(China Daily 05/19/2015 page1)

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