Trade Mission to China 2014

Land of Opportunity

I was delighted and honoured to be invited to be part of the Bord Bia Ministerial Trade Mission to China from Saturday 1st November until Saturday 8th November.  After the flight from Dublin to Dubai (seven and a half hours) and Dubai to Beijing (seven hours ten minutes) we made our way from the airport to the hotel arriving at around 6pm Sunday Beijing time.  Beijing is seven hours ahead of us so we had spent over a day travelling.  Sunday evening provided us with a short period for sightseeing so Martin O’Keefe (North Cork Co-Op Chair), Pat Sheahan (North Cork Co-Op CEO), John Comer (ICMSA President), Nigel Walsh (Ulster Bank) and myself decided to visit Tiananmen Square.  At almost 9pm local time it was packed with people.  We took a few photographs and headed back to the hotel.

The next morning we started off with a Bord Bia briefing on the Chinese market.  Our delegation consisted of just over fifty people drawn from the meat, seafood, dairy processing sectors, farm organisations, banking, business consultancy and Department of Agriculture and Bord Bia officials.  After that we headed by coach to the Beijing Sanyuan Food Group which is one of Chinas largest dairy and animal husbandry companies.  That night we attended a trade reception at the Chinese Embassy.  I was invited to a meeting with the Li Jianping Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney T.D., the Irish Ambassador to China Paul Kavanagh along with John Comer, President of the ICMSA, and Chinese officials.  Mr. Jianping wanted to further develop links between China and Ireland and thus was very interested in working with Macra to promote such initiatives.  It was magnificent to hear the renowned Sligo fiddle player Michael Coleman’s (1890-1945) recordings being played in the embassy that night and it made me think how small our world is and importance of marketing and promotion.  In that regard the work that Bord Bia does in the areas of market insight and research has meant that Irish food producers are able to benefit from this analysis and thus meet the demands of consumers across the world.  The professionalism of all the Irish participants from Minister Coveney to Ambassador Paul Kavanagh and all the Government officials and State agencies, Irish company representatives and farm organisations means that the Chinese business leaders are very keen to do business with Irish companies.  This will benefit Irish farmers and food producers as they are offered the opportunity to supply produce to the largest Country and market on the world. 

Tuesday started off with a dairy seminar followed by a networking lunch and flight to the capital of Inner Mongolia capital Hohhot (pop.2.8 million approx.) located in North China.  Inner Mongolia is the part of China most conducive to dairy production and is the home to the massive dairy companies Yili and Mengniu which we visited by coach on Wednesday in the morning and afternoon.  That night we caught a flight to Hangzhou (pop.21 million approx.) located on the East Coast of China not too far away from Shanghai.  On Thursday morning we caught a train to Shanghai (pop. 24 million approx.) and we visited the very impressive Wahaha that afternoon.  Wahaha which means ‘Laughing Child’ is the largest purchaser of milk powder in the world and has 30,000 employees.  That night we were taken out for a multi course meal by senior representatives of the Wahaha company which proved to be very interesting. 

The final day of the trade mission to China commenced with a networking breakfast in the aptly named Regal International East Hotel where Minister Coveney and Ambassador Kavanagh again were putting forward the key attributes of Origin Green namely how safe, secure and sustainable our system of food production is.  The networking event was attended by a significant number of key company executives and business leaders.  The importance of Irish trade links with China cannot be overstated and the fact that so many Irish companies and State agencies are establishing a base in China is showing our commitment to the Chinese market which in turn is increasing our exports to China.  This is a direct manifestation of the Chinese business mantra of “Win/ Win” where both parties to a negotiation come away with something.  The Irish Dairy Board (now Ornua) held an event as well advertising the various Kerrygold products available and soon to be available in China.  In fact on a visit to a high end supermarket on Monday in Beijing we saw Kerrygold butter in pride of place in a refrigerated display of imported dairy products. 

After the breakfast event we went to visit the Want Want headquarters where we saw that the company President Tsai based the values of the company on the values he attributed to his childhood dog Happy who was confident, loyal and brave.  The company produces a vast array of products from corn snacks to crisps to baby food and various dairy milk products. They export to fifty-six countries. 

The final leg of our journey incorporated another internal flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou (pop.14 million approx.) located in South China.  During our afternoon in Guangzhou we visited the Biostime company headquarters and sampled some of the dairy products they produce.  This company has a very young vibrant and educated workforce with strong links to France and Europe.  Indeed some of their senior executives have visited Moorepark and actually used the Moorepark facilities on a commercial basis for research. 

That night then we caught our flights home and I returned to Tullamore to chair National Council at the annual Queen of the Land meeting.  All in weeks work with Macra.

-          Kieran O’Dowd, Macra ex President and member of South Sligo Macra