The commencement of direct flights between Dublin and Hong Kong will have the effect of opening up significant regions in China to Ireland, a conference in Dublin has been told.

Peter Ryan, Consul General of Ireland in Hong Kong, said the commencement of flights by Cathay Pacific direct with Dublin opened up a region which boasted major population centres, including Macau, 64 kms from Hong Kong, Shenzhen just 30 minutes by hi-speed train and the Greater Bay Area economic hub, including  nine cities in Guangdong province.

Mr Ryan, who established Ireland’s first diplomatic presence in Hong Kong in 2014, said apart from the business opportunities in Hong Kong, Ireland would also benefit by the close proximity of Macau.

Speaking at a briefing organised by Asia Matters – Ireland’s Think Tank on Asia –  in conjunction with IBEC and Financial Services Ireland, he said: “In tourism, matters are moving along very quickly and the announcement of direct flights between Dublin and Hong Kong which commence in June is likely to be a game changer. Our next challenge is to get what will be four flights a week upped to seven flights a week. There are great tourism opportunities in the region, for inward tourism into Ireland, leaving aside exports in the agri-food sector and opportunities in financial services.”

“Macau alone has 35m visitors a year. These are premium visitors from mainland China who are purchasing premium international products. There will be direct access from Hong Kong airlinks to Macau,” he added.

The Consul General said that while Ireland was a small player in Asia and was unable to match resources of larger European States, once agencies and organisations worked together and in tandem with the diaspora results are and will be achieved.

Dealing with opportunities in financial services, the Consul General said the Irish Funds Network was playing a very important role working closely on the ground in Hong Kong with Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. “We are building a platform in Hong Kong to provide opportunities for Ireland’s financial services sector in the region,” he said. He said indications were that Hong Kong could be a centre for providing and managing the finance for the Chinese Government’s “Belt and Road” initiative which will see vast sums being invested in infrastructure and international transport networks.

He added that the education sector also provided opportunities with third level involvement by Chinese students in Ireland growing eight-fold in a matter of years.

Martin Murray, Executive Director, Asia Matters, told the conference that Ireland is the second most competitive economy in the EU and the sixth most competitive globally.

As the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone, Ireland represents the third best economy globally for world efficiency. The Irish education system offers a third level system that meets the requirements of a competitive economy and knowledge transfer between universities and companies.

Mr Murray added that Ireland offered a diverse and skilled workforce. “Over 17% of the workforce was born abroad and there has been inward migration from 180 countries in the 12 months to April 2016. That percentage figure has since increased. Additionally, there has been an almost 20% increase in numbers speaking a foreign language between 2011 and 2016 censuses.”

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