This December Northern Ireland will host the 2017 UK-China Regional Leaders Summit which is a bit of a coup in securing and worth more to us than we probably realise.
This prestigious event will see over 30 Chinese provincial and municipal leaders coming to Northern Ireland and meeting and engaging with academia and businesses to build connections and enable them to identify strategic areas for economic outcomes. Which government representatives from our side will meet with these leaders is anyone’s guess, but we need to put our best foot forward.
Invest NI and a range of government departments alongside our universities, businesses and councils are in the driving seat in terms of planning and delivery of this summit. Effort is being made to make this the event it needs to be.
Late last year I had the opportunity to visit Beijing and the Chinese provinces of Liaoning and Hubei with several elected representatives and some of our local business leaders. What struck me was the sheer size of the regions in terms of land mass, population and the opportunity that these regional marketplaces have to offer us here.
We have skills, expertise and produce that they need to develop their industries and feed the many millions of people that exist across the vast country. But the relationship must be reciprocated and they won’t give us market access unless a relationship is built and trust exists.
From first-hand experience meeting some of these regional leaders and senior government individuals they are looking to us in the UK and Ireland to give them solutions and products across relevant sectors including FinTech, cyber security, life and health sciences, creative industries and agri-food. We can provide and more.
Clean, green and lean
China is one hell of place. Massive, populated, industrial, hi-tech. It really is worth a visit. When you are in the cities, air pollution is obvious and many walk about with air filtration masks on. The lack of rolling green fields is obvious once you get out of the urban areas.
It really struck me that our quality produce and agri-food products have a significant opportunity – even more so than it is supplying now. The Chinese need produce that has provenance, traceability and is reared in a clean and green environment which is not always available in China as the land and climate is not always available, especially when there are literally millions of people to feed. Quality and volume is the key. We need the export first mentality to make it work.
NI Bureau in Beijing
The hard work that the NI Executive Bureau in China is facilitating is developing friendships by identifying projects that will be of mutual and practical benefit. That is why we need summits such as the one in December so that we create the circumstances and conditions for those relationships to form and develop.
Given the period of time that the Northern Ireland Executive office has been operational in China, securing this summit is a significant achievement and demonstrates support for the Executive’s strategy for working with the regions.
These Chinese regional leaders won’t muck about. They have money to invest, a ready market and want to do business. This summit needs to be success and we must get behind it.
The Chinese have been gradually investing their time and energy into Northern Ireland. In summer 2015 they set up, for the first time, a Chinese Consulate. In 2011 the Confucius Institute was headquartered at Ulster University aimed to foster closer ties between China and Northern Ireland. The institute is a network of 500 institutes in over 140 countries which promotes and teaches Chinese language and culture and facilitates cultural exchanges aimed at fostering trade links with China. Recently the NI branch won the ‘Confucius Institute of the Year’ which is a huge accolade.
The main regions in China that we are reaching out to are getting closer with a recent announcement from carrier Cathay Pacific that they will operate a year-round service from Dublin to Hong Kong four times per week. Plans for new direct flights to mainland China are also nearing take-off with Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines preparing to launch a Dublin-Beijing direct flight.
These much-needed routes will be a fantastic addition if we are serious about getting into the Chinese market place and developing that required friendship before shaking on any business deal. We look forward to a successful UK China Regional Leaders summit in December.