Westmeath County Council has granted planning permission for an international trade and commerce centre on a 137-hectare site at Creggan, Athlone.

The centre, with a price tag of €175m, will promote trade and business between China, Europe and the US.

An estimated 1,500 jobs are expected to be created as part of the project, as well as 1,200 posts during the construction phase.

A planning application was lodged last May for the first part of what has been dubbed the Athlone Chinatown project. Planning was granted this afternoon to Athlone Business Park Ltd, the company behind the venture, with 47 conditions.

A statement from the project backers pointed out that the majority of all of these jobs will be for Irish/EU nationals.

Phase one of the international trade and commerce centre will comprise of two exhibition halls, each containing space for 270 concessionaires to display their wares, one hall for visiting exhibitions with space for 135 flexible separate display areas, nine smaller exhibition halls, one administrative building and an entrance concourse.

When completed, it will comprise a total of nine exhibition halls, nine smaller independent exhibition buildings, one temporary exhibitions space, offices, administrative services, some living quarters, hotels, shops, restaurants, pubs, a school and train station.

Financed by a combination of private equity and pre-sales of concession spaces at the centre, backers claim there is potential for 9,000 jobs if the master plan for the centre is fully developed, with at least two thirds made up of Irish/EU workers and up to one third Chinese specialists and management staff.

The centre is expected to attract a potential 1.5 million international buyers and visitors annually when completed.

The International Trade and Commerce Centre will provide showcase/demonstration space for Chinese manufacturers and traders to display their products to European and other international buyers, with a view to generating bulk orders, which will then be delivered from the producers in China.

Export oriented enterprises and products from China, including electric cars, medical devices, fabrics and machinery will be displayed and traded from the centre.

There will be a dedicated cultural space for showcasing Chinese heritage and culture.

The overall master plan for the entire 337-acre site will provide for up to 3,000 companies to display their wares in the nine exhibition halls and other facilities.

There is also potential for Irish goods and products to be showcased at the centre to gain access to the expanding Asian markets.

If successful, the centre will bring European and American trade buyers/business people to Athlone, instead of the current need for expensive and time consuming travel to and within China for such purchasing and trading activity, it added.