By @SimonCocking great interview with Peter Ryan, Consul General of Ireland – Árd Chonsal na hEireann to Hong Kong & Macau | Consulate General of Ireland 

What is your background briefly?

I’m a Dubliner and attended Synge Street, Belvedere College & UCD. Starting out in banking, I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade in 1994 & since then have served in Ireland, Japan, Korea, Singapore, New York & Hong Kong. I’ve been very fortunate to have served in some of the world’s most dynamic cities, and particularly so in Asia, given the increasing importance of the region for Ireland’s interests. I was also lucky enough to spend some years on secondment to the Asia-Europe Foundation, based out of Singapore, which involved building networks and implementing projects across multiple countries in Asia and all EU Member States. This was a unique and valuable experience given the diversity of the countries involved. I spent the years from 2011-2014 based in New York as Deputy Consul General leading on media and economic issues. It was an exciting time to be there and to get to know & work with many great ‘Friends of Ireland’ against the backdrop of recovery in the Irish economy and record levels of exports, investment and tourism from North America.

Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a ‘logical background’ – I believe that we are fortunate that colleagues come from as wide a range of backgrounds and disciplines as you can think of – some with specific experience and expertise in a particular field. We all learn to quickly depend on our colleagues both in terms of the team members from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade as well as other Government Departments, State Agencies and to build other networks of support. While no two days are ever the same, its true to say that there similar situations often arise and this is where it is so helpful to have close integration between ‘Team Ireland’ members in Ireland and overseas.

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

There is great momentum right now in Ireland-Hong Kong relations, whether in terms of ‘Community, Commercial or Cultural’ – our ‘3 Cs’. The introduction of the first direct flight between our two cities (and Ireland’s first direct air link with Asia) from June 2018 will further boost these links and will provide Ireland with a unique opportunity to grow our business whether that’s in financial services, technology, education, tourism or agri-food. At the same time, we will be pushing hard to promote Ireland as a European Union hub for Hong Kong firms looking to access the Single Market of 500+ million consumers post-Brexit. We’re working closely with the State Agencies and other partners to promote what Ireland has to offer and to ensure the success of the direct flight which is expected to bring up to 70,000 travellers to Ireland in its first year alone.

How long have you been based in HK?

I arrived in August 2014 with a couple of brilliant colleagues with the task of setting up Ireland’s first Consulate General in Hong Kong which would also have responsibility for Macau. We have built strong & fruitful links with ‘Team Ireland’ in China, led by the Ambassador in Beijing as well as colleagues at home & members of the dynamic Irish Community in Hong Kong & Macau. Three years have passed by in the blink of an eye – Hong Kong is a bit like that – in fact, in an early interview here I described the city as ‘Manhattan on speed’. I don’t claim to have coined the phrase but it’s hard to top it for accuracy.

Which aspects do you love? Which are very different to Ireland?

I love the can-do attitude and ambition of people here. The speed of execution is impressive. As Allan Zeman, one of the city’s best known entrepreneurs known as the ‘Father of Lan Kwai Fong’ puts it “Hong Kong is a city where you can go to bed with an idea, get up the next morning, raise the funds & make it happen”. I love that Hong Kong is just one hour from Macau, which last year welcomed 30+ million visitors & where the casinos turned over seven times more revenue than Las Vegas. And also that one hour in the other direction is Shenzen, with a population of 12 million people and home to Huawei, Tencent & PCH which is run by Liam Casey from Cork.

In terms of everyday differences with home, there are more things that are similar than different such as – the police wear blue uniforms, the post boxes are green, there a double-decker buses, we drive on the same side of the road, our legal systems are the same & the list goes on. If pushed for a difference, I’d say that typhoons come a little more regularly in Hong Kong than in Ireland!

Why Irish business should use HK as their launch pad into the A-P Region?

Because Hong Kong is an obvious fit for Irish firms, it’s small in terms of getting around and doing business here is seamless. No visa is required for visitors, it is a global financial centre which makes life easier & from next year we will have direct access from Dublin with ongoing connections to the cities where more than half of the world’s population lives. Many savvy firms use the city as their base given that all of Asia’s main cities can be reached by air within four hours. As a gateway to China in particular, Hong Kong is unmatched – 60% of all Chinese outward investment in 2016 came via Hong Kong & from the city it is easy to access Mainland China business opportunities. Indeed the adjacent area, called the Pearl River Delta region, is one of the key target zones in China for goods services, particularly those from overseas.

In addition, Hong Kong is home to one of the largest Irish communities in Asia, which can be an invaluable resource also for the first time visitor and people looking to do business here. With vibrant Irish Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau, an Irish Funds network as well as an Enterprise Ireland office, we can quickly connect visitors to the right people. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Invest HK do a great job in helping firms interested in working in Hong Kong so I’d recommend touching base with them also – they regularly visit Dublin & do briefings with the Ireland Hong Kong Business Forum which is part of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. The work of Asia Matters is also helping to enhance our understanding of this part of the world.

Which business sectors most likely to benefit?

The areas which are already showing strongest potential are finance, technology, tourism, education and agri-food. We’ve been working to realise specific opportunities under each of these headings – for example, firstly, we have been working with the Finance and Payments Association of Ireland to prepare case studies for Irish fintech firms of successful Irish people who have built fintech businesses in Hong Kong. Secondly, we’ve seen an eight-fold increase in the number of Hong Kong students at Irish Colleges since we started promoting education in Ireland back in 2014. We are confident this will continue to grow and we recently hosted a group of Irish colleges led by Education in Ireland.

A list of ‘must dos’ on visiting HK?

Do some homework ahead of time – take a look at our Linked In & Twitter accounts to get an idea of our work, & the useful market insight published by the Irish Chamber of Commerce, get in touch with us and/or the Chamber ahead of your visit so we can make some introductions for you. Also, see who in your network has lived, done business or has contacts here or in Macau – there’s nothing quite as helpful in Asia as having a personal introduction from a trusted contact. Don’t be a stranger – drop into our monthly ‘First Friday’ breakfast gatherings in the Consulate General to meet with members of the community & share news & views.

Lastly, chances are there’ll be something Irish happening in Hong Kong and Macau while you’re in town so bring your gear if you fancy a kick or puc around with the Hong Kong GAA Club and bring your singing voice for any St Patrick’s Society event going on.


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