Chinese students are to visit the heart of Northern Ireland's equine industry next year following a key meeting in Beijing.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill, one of a number of MLAs taking part in a cross-party visit to China, met with key players in the Chinese equine industry including Professor Han, vice-chairman of the China Horse Industry Association and director of China Agricultural University's Equine Centre to discuss equine education and explore possible areas for collaborative working.
China is placing great emphasis on the development of equestrian sports since the relaxation of quarantine rules and is closely studying the global horse breeding and racing industry.
The country's first equestrian racecourse was built 19 years ago in Chengdu, now home to the China Equestrian Festival, which experts say has the potential to become the fourth-biggest equestrian festival in the world behind Germany's Aachen, America's Kentucky and Australia's Melbourne. In the US last year, the equine industry contributed $119bn to GDP, and provided 1.4m jobs. In Germany it provides 300,000 direct jobs and in the UK it represents 5.4% of GDP.
Speaking after the meeting in the Irish embassy in Beijing, Minister O'Neill said that equine education is an area of great importance both here and in China. "There is a growing interest in development of the equine sector in China and during his visit to Ireland earlier this year Professor Han observed the educational opportunities in the equine sector on offer at the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (Cafre) Enniskillen Campus," she said.
"Equine education has an important role to play in fostering growth of the sector and both Professor Han and I recognise the mutual benefits that could be realised through a skills-sharing exchange programme.
"I am pleased to announce that Chinese students will come to Enniskillen Campus in 2013 and will have the opportunity to learn about the Irish equine industry through hands-on experience of working with horses."
Cafre's Enniskillen Campus runs a racing enterprise within a 136-hectare estate which gives students experience in handling and riding racehorses in training.
A specialist breeding unit, managed by the students, allows them experience the process of managing a yard and participate in the events of a stud's calendar.