Trade center may act as European hub

Updated: 2012-02-21 08:08

By Cecily Liu (China Daily)

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ATHLONE, Ireland - A proposed development project in Ireland may soon change the way Chinese products are brought to Europe.

The project, known as the Europe China Trading Hub, will provide space for Chinese manufacturers and traders to display their products to European and international buyers.

The hub would be located in Athlone, a town of 18,000 in central Ireland, 90 minutes by train from Dublin airport.

"The ECTH will bring Chinese goods to Europe, thereby saving importers the travel costs to China and also give them a feeling of security when paying in advance for their orders," says John Tiernan, chief executive of Athlone Business Park, the development company that submitted the planning application for the project's first phase in May.

The project's investor is a Chinese development company, which is unwilling to reveal its name. Funds for the project will come from a combination of private equity and pre-sales of exhibition spaces.

Tiernan says that the Chinese investors considered a number of venues in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium, but decided upon Athlone in 2008.

"They were looking for a patch of 121.4 hectares of land held by a single owner, and they needed an area that would not be affected by adjacent developments, and Athlone was a good choice," he said.

Plans for the project predict that at least 400 Chinese businesses will use the trade hub to launch their products in Europe, according to recent newspaper reports.

The local Westmeath County Council granted permission for the hub in December.

But objections over health, noise and environmental concerns have led to appeals to the board that decides major strategic infrastructure projects in Ireland.

The appellants are three local residents, one local business and two conservation bodies. Tiernan says he is working closely with the appellants to address their concerns and feels confident that "the project will get the green light".

If planning permission is given, the developers expect to start the first phase of the project by late 2014 or early 2015, and complete all five phases within seven to 10 years.

The entire project would cost 1.4 billion euros ($1.85 billion), create up to 9,000 jobs and attract up to 30,000 visitors a week to the town.

The 175-million-euro first phase includes two mega exhibition halls, each containing space for 270 display areas. It would create 1,500 operational jobs - of which two-thirds would be for Irish and EU nationals.

There would be another major multipurpose hall, known as the China Hall, for visiting exhibitions with space for 135 display areas.

Another nine smaller one-story exhibition halls are also proposed for the first phase.

Alan Shaw, mayor of Athlone, says the project would greatly benefit the local community from both investment and employment perspectives.

"The scale of the proposal has made it a talking point in Athlone, and we hope it will receive permission to go ahead," Shaw said.

China Daily