I warmly welcome the introduction of the Short Stay Visa Programme and look forward to enhancing our tourism and business links with the sixteen countries included in the initial programme.
As a small, open economy with relatively modest levels of domestic demand, Ireland is reliant on trade. The Government believes that Ireland’s recovery will necessarily be export-led and that employment will be created through direct jobs and substantial secondary employment.
The promotion of Ireland’s trade and economic interests is a core element of the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The recent transfer of the trade promotion functions to what is now the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has strengthened this responsibility.
Since the announcement of the Short Stay Visa Waiver Programme in May, my Department and our Embassies have been actively informing the relevant Government authorities and travel interests in the countries concerned about the programme and the opportunities which flow from it.
On a wider front, we have been active in efforts to support both the restoration of Ireland’s international reputation and the export led growth, which is crucial to our recovery.
Our enhanced responsibilities under the banner of Trade Promotion will allow the Embassy network to develop further their role in supporting Irish business and, more importantly, in building economic linkages between Ireland and our priority trading partners.
When I spoke to the conference of Ambassadors at the beginning of this month in Dublin, I stressed that the task of Embassies is to turn our network of contacts into an asset which will secure tangible returns for the Irish economy.
Under the new arrangements, I will chair the management of the Export Trade Council. The Council will bring together relevant Government Departments, the State Agencies and private sector participants with experience of the export sector. It will monitor implementation of the Government’s Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy Strategy.
The government recognises that, as a relatively small player in the global market place, it is critical that we go forward as a coherent team when promoting our economic interests abroad. This joined up approach is even more necessary when trying to gain or increase our foothold in new high growth potential markets.
One of the key challenges identified in the Strategy for Government is how to make Ireland competitive on all fronts – including the ease and affordability of immigration procedures.
While acknowledging clearly that immigration and border controls generally are broad and very complex issues, involving social policy, national sovereignty and security considerations, there was a clear recognition amongst all of the relevant Departments and State Agencies that the current Irish visa regime sometimes acts as a constraint on the expansion of trade, tourism and investment, particularly in relation to new and high-growth markets outside the EU and the US.
We all recognise that critical importance of measures to facilitate entrepreneurial, business and tourist travel to Ireland. Without them Ireland will find itself at a competitive disadvantage. In a fast changing global economic climate we need to have a visa system that responds to the many new ways of doing business.
The visa waiver programme announced today is the first tangible outcome of that new mechanism and represents the kind of joined up action required of Government if we are to meet the challenge of export led recovery. I am confident that this initiative will help to give tourist numbers from new high growth markets a much needed boost.
I look forward to further such programmes to facilitate entrepreneurs and investors who wish to do business in Ireland, at the earliest opportunity. While there is potential for Irish companies to further grow our existing key markets such as the UK, the US and the Eurozone, we are all well aware of the significant potential for them to increase or gain a foothold in other high-growth and high-potential markets.
The new and high potential growth markets such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and the Gulf States, present distinct challenges, not only in terms of language and cultural attributes, but also in terms of business cultures, practices and regulation. When the problems of access are added to this list the end result has been that many Irish companies are put off doing business with these markets. However, I do not need to remind anyone here today that these are among the fastest growing economies in the world and that we cannot afford to ignore them.
I am determined that my Department, working with the other Departments and the state agencies, will do everything within its capacity to help Irish companies break into these markets.
We need joined up action as well as joined up thinking. The introduction of the visa waiver programme is an example of the kind of practical solutions we can come up with dealing with our economic challenges. I am confident that, working in partnership, the Government, its agencies and private enterprise can together come up with further creative and imaginative initiatives which will help achieve the Government’s priority of sustainable export led recovery.