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Minister of State Costello's address to the Asia Trade Forum

Minister Joe Costello, Trade, Speech, Asia and Oceania, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen

I’m delighted to have been invited to join you here this morning at the Irish Exporters’ Association Asia Trade Forum.

Today’s discussion is particularly relevant given its focus on India and the opportunity it offers to Ireland and, in particular, Irish exporters and entrepreneurs.

As you know this Government is committed to growing Ireland’s exports, through implementation of the Trade Strategy to 2015, and to diversifying those exports into newer markets.  The development of economic links with India, along with the other BRICS countries, has been prioritised under the Trade Strategy.  That is why, as in other priority markets, our Ambassador in New Delhi chairs a local market team, of the State Agency representatives on the ground, which develops an annual market plan to identify and promote trade opportunities between the two countries. These teams report to the Trade and Promotion Division of my Depatment.

We are also working to encourage Indian investors to look at Ireland as an investment destination and, in fact, the Embassy and IDA are presently touring India with an investment roadshow to showcase to the Indian business community what Ireland can offer.

With a population of more than 1.2 billion, India is the world’s second most populous country after China and in nominal terms is the world’s 10th largest economy.

It is a country of enormous diversity, with 28 states, seven union territories and 22 official languages. Over the last 15 years India has undergone significant change, growth, and urbanisation.

By 2030 it is expected that India will have 68 cities with populations of more than one million people.

India has fared relatively well during the global recession, with annual growth in excess of five percent. While there is a question mark over whether India will return in the short term to growth of around nine percent (as per much of the last decade), the expansion of its economy continues to outpace much of the rest of the world.

India’s greatest asset is its youthful and increasingly educated population.

With 64 percent of the population currently aged between 15 and 65, India has the world’s largest working age population pool.

According to the International Monetary Fund, this demographic dividend could add about two percentage points per annum to India’s per capita GDP growth over the next two decades.

The liberalisation of the economy and the entrepreneurial nature of the Indian people have helped to create a large cohort of wealthy, outward-looking, business people keen on identifying business and investment opportunities both at home and abroad.

During much of the 20th Century Ireland and India had a close political relationship, based on links between the countries during the period of our respective independence movements. Elements of the Indian Constitution are based on Bunreacht na hEireann, and there were warm relations between political figures of that period.

The Irish also played a central role in the development of second level education in India, with many of the country’s elite secondary schools having been established by Irish missionaries, in particularly from the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches.

While the number of Irish actually engaged with the schools has dwindled over the years, to this day, many of these schools display pride in their links to Ireland.

Thanks to these links, Ireland is perhaps better known amongst the Indian middle and upper classes than other countries of an equivalent size. That said, Ireland is still largely unknown to the majority of Indians.

Even amongst those who have heard of Ireland, a large percentage would have little detailed knowledge of the country, much less be aware that it is one of the world’s largest exporters of pharmaceuticals or software.

One of the few reference points is the performance of the Ireland cricket team in recent Cricket World Cups.

Economically, bilateral trade between Ireland and India stands at about €1.3 billion per annum, a respectable figure for a country of Ireland’s size.

While the Government aims to substantially increase this figure in the years ahead, it should be borne in mind that the business environment in India can be challenging.

Developing business and investment links with India is a medium to long term strategy – while enormous opportunities exist, experience demonstrates that India can be a difficult environment for those seeking immediate rewards.

Business in India is dominated by family companies and is largely conducted on the basis of personal relationships. An active presence in India, or, at the very least, regular visits by those seeking to do business are important to success.

Also essential are local knowledge, contacts and experience in the marketplace -  which is why events such as today’s forum are particularly welcome.

Bringing together those who know India with those who are interested in exploring the opportunity it presents is an excellent way of leveraging experience gained over many years.

It has the potential to provide those who are new to India with a head start in a market which is as complex as it is vast.

As I said at the outset, this Government is committed to growing Ireland’s exports into newer markets,  like India. I will do everything I can to support this aim, through my participation on the Export Trade Council, chaired by the Tánaiste; by leading Enterprise Ireland trade missions in the BRICS countries and by ensuring that the Embassy Network is focussed on supporting the needs of Ireland’s trading sector.

India presents an enormous opportunity for that sector and I am delighted to see the business community coming together here today look at ways that Ireland can grasp that opportunity.

I wish you all the best for today’s meeting and for the challenges ahead.

Thank you.