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China's new European trade hub: An Irish town of 18,000

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The Athlone announcement came on the heels of a November announcement by Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming that Beijing will send a delegation to Europe in 2012 to explore options for investing in state-owned infrastructure. China has already bought about 600 million euros worth of European debt and is now looking to invest in state assets as well, such as roads and trains.

According to Mr. Chen, European countries facing substantial debt are seeking to convert their assets into cash – and are looking to foreign investors for that capital. As part of Ireland's debt reduction plans, The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suggested that Ireland divest up to 5 billion euro worth of state assets, a fire sale that could interest more Chinese investors. Editor's note: This paragraph has been edited to correctly reflect the amount of state assets the IMF has requested Ireland divest.

If the Athlone project is successful, China could take the game to the US. According to Ó Catháin, Ireland's low corporate tax rate was "a major inducement" for Chinese investors to back the trade hub there, but Asian investment in Ireland is still almost subterranean compared to US investment there. While there are 41 Asian companies operating in Ireland, there are 491 American companies and 99 German ones, according to 2010 statistics from the Industrial Development Agency, the state body responsible for attracting foreign companies to Ireland. Editor's note: This paragraph has been edited to correctly reflect the ownership of the foreign companies.

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