FINANCE minister Michael Noonan welcomed the Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, Shannon Airport last evening ahead of an official two-day visit to the West of Ireland.
Premier Li and his wife Professor Cheng Hong were greeted on arrival at the airport by the Limerick minister, along with Shannon Group Chairman Rose Hynes, CEO Neil Pakey, Irish Ambassador to China Paul Kavanagh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to Ireland, Jianguo Xu, and Clare TD Pat Breen.
Following the arrival, the entourage - which included eight Chinese Government Ministers - was joined by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on a visit to a farm in Galway and then headed to Ashford Castle for high level meetings between Premier Li, the Taoiseach and ministers from both Governments.
Speaking in Shannon, Minister Noonan said: “It’s a very important visit because Premier Li is on the way to an extensive visit in South America and as part of that they have decided to stop over in Ireland. We are particularly pleased that he has chosen to stop over in Shannon.
“Premier Li is the second most powerful man in China and President Xi Jinping, when he visited Ireland in 2012, again came into Shannon and concentrated on this part of the country so there’s no doubt that for historic reasons there is particular interest in the Shannon region and the West of Ireland,” he added.
Mr Noonan said that securing Chinese investment in the financial services in Ireland would be high on the agenda for the talks.
“Our principal interest up to now in the Chinese market has been exports. It’s generally known now that baby food produced in this region goes to China. They regard the baby food in Ireland as of very high quality and safe and there’s a huge demand for it,” he explained.
“As well as that, in November the Chinese market opened up for the export of Irish beef and the actual exporting of the beef so that it’s available in the Chinese supermarkets we would hope will begin very shortly.
“We would also like to see more Chinese inward investment and they have a particular interest in financial services,” he added.
Shannon Chairman Rose Hynes said that Premier Li’s arrival was another significant day for the airport and region.
“The Chinese Government has a relationship with this region going back to the 1980s. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited here in 2012 and to have the Chinese Premier here today speaks volumes about the ties between China and this part of Ireland,” she said.
“Very strong trade links are being developed between China and Ireland and, in that context, we are delighted to see such focus on the Shannon and wider West of Ireland region.”