Shannon ‘ideal gateway to access EU’

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, China’s foreign minister came to Ireland to study what was then known as the Shannon Free Zone.

Jiang Zemin later became president. His experience in Shannon, meanwhile, helped in the formation of several special economic zones that subsequently fuelled the country’s spectacular economic growth. Now, in a curious twist of fate, it is the Shannon Free Zone that wants something from China. It is not advice or a suitable model that it seeks, however, it is business.

The free zone, or at least, Shannon Development - the State agency that runs the 243-hectare business park - wants to tap into the vast trade potential that the Chinese economy offers.

Yesterday, chief executive Kevin Thompstone made a presentation to Chinese business representatives, and said the Shannon region could serve as the perfect gateway for them to access the EU and US markets.

He acknowledged that hubs such as Frankfurt and Paris were the preferences for Chinese companies looking to access these markets.

But he told the business representatives that they should consider Shannon for a number of reasons. For a start, Shannon Airport is uncongested and the region also boasts a deep-water port. It was at “the heart of a technical corridor,” Mr Thompstone added, with companies such as Dell located in the park. With the University of Limerick nearby, a high-skilled workforce would be available.

He also said that, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Report 2004, Ireland ranks very favourably in terms of doing business.

That report showed that the labour productivity per hour of an employee in Ireland equated to $45.10, compared with $42.30 in France and just $34.80 in Germany. Almost 48% of the Irish population had received a tertiary education, according to the report, compared with 34.2% in France and 21.7% in Germany.

And Ireland rated above both countries for “ease of doing business” and available “investment incentives.”

To encourage Shannon as a gateway for trade, he announced that an exhibition centre would be established in the park to showcase Chinese products and services. In addition, Shannon Development would make available incubation units to Chinese entrepreneurs. And plans to establish a Shannon-Shanghai air cargo service were being discussed, he added.

Additional business from China would be a welcome boost for Shannon Development, the subject of a government review.

There have been calls to bring the agency under the control of Enterprise Ireland or the IDA, a move that Shannon Development opposes.

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