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Launch of the Irish Export Association’s 'Top 250 Exporters’ in Ireland Publication

Thank you for inviting me back again this year to launch the IEA’s publication on the 'Top 250 Exporters’ in Ireland which, I believe, provides an excellent indication of how Ireland’s exporting firms are reacting to the current challenging international economic environment.

Two and a half years ago, the Government set itself the target of exiting the bailout programme, and restoring Ireland’s economic sovereignty.  Today, we are on course to meet that target.  Compared to where we were in the Spring of 2011, Ireland today enjoys a far greater degree of economic and financial stability.  We are seeing fragile but positive signs of recovery, and we are on course to exit the programme.  At the time the Government was elected, would have predicted we would make this much progress.

But we cannot be content with what we have done.  What we have to do now is move on to the next target.  We have to set new and demanding goals, for what we want to achieve together.  We should set targets that we have to stretch ourselves to achieve, and we should plan for how to achieve them.

The first of these targets is full employment.  What the recent ESRI report shows is that full employment is an attainable goal for Ireland by the end of this decade.  Of course, we rely in part on growth in our trading partners, but a lot is also in our own hands.   Our goal should be to leave no stone unturned in the search for full employment.

Exporting companies will and do play a critical role in supporting Ireland’s economic recovery and in creating jobs.  Despite a difficult global economic environment, Irish exports in 2012 were well in excess of pre-crisis levels, increasing by 5.5% to €182bn - the highest level on record. I would like to commend the IEA for its contribution to this strong export performance, most notably through the assistance and advice it gives to companies based here in Ireland.

Increasing our exports and, thereby, creating jobs is a central aim of the Government’s Trade Strategy Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy. The Export Trade Council (ETC), which I chair, oversees the implementation of this Strategy and – in cooperation with other Government Departments, the state agencies, and our Embassy network – the ETC works to ensure that our exports continue to develop to their full potential in support of our economic recovery. The ETC is supported by a small secretariat in the Trade and Promotion Division of my Department.

John Whelan, of course, is also an active member of the Council and I want to take this opportunity to thank John warmly for his ongoing contribution to its deliberations.

Today, we are here to honour Ireland’s exporting companies who play such a vital role in driving Ireland’s recovery and I would like to acknowledge the contribution of each and every one of the companies represented here.

Some of you have been mainstays of the Irish export sector for many years now and I would like once again to thank you for your positive contributions to the Irish economy down through the years.

To those of you here who have taken the decision to locate in Ireland more recently, I would like to welcome you and to assure you that this Government is here to support you to expand your business and to export more from Ireland.

When speaking of mainstays of the Irish export sector, Microsoft is one of the first names that comes to mind. It is a great honour for me, therefore, to extend my warmest congratulations to Microsoft on being named, for the very first time, the biggest exporter in Ireland.

Microsoft first established a small manufacturing facility in Ireland, employing just over 100 people, in 1985, and so it has been exporting from Ireland for over 25 years now. In the intervening period, Microsoft has gone on to be a world leader, to be one of the most innovative, dynamic, competitive and customer-focused companies in the world, employing approximately 1,900 people at its campus in Sandyford.

Today’s honour follows a very impressive performance last year which saw Microsoft’s exports from Ireland increased by over 36%. This increase is, in part, thanks to the recent expansion of their cloud computing data centre in Dublin.

The Government has targeted cloud computing in its Action Plan for Jobs as one of the sectors with greatest potential for significant job-creation and economic growth for Ireland. Recently we announced the establishment of seven new, large-scale, world-class research centres with the support of over €200m from Science Foundation Ireland, Ireland’s national foundation for research.

Among the seven institutions to be established is INSIGHT, which will be a dedicated Analytics Research Centre, integrating four of Ireland’s leading universities (UCD, UCC, NUIG, DCU) and 45 partners from industry, including Microsoft.

I welcome Microsoft’s recent decision to expand its cloud computing data centre as well as its support for our new Analytics Research Centre.  These initiatives are major endorsements for Ireland’s increasingly competitive economy and for the high level of skills of the Irish workforce.

This is borne out by the most recent publication from the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, in which our overall ranking improved by three places to 17th, and we also ranked:

·         3rd for availability of skilled labour

·         1st for flexibility and adaptability of workforce

·         1st for attitudes to globalisation

·         1st for investment incentives

As the multinational companies here will attest, these factors, along with our R&D incentives and our competitive corporate tax rate, set Ireland apart from our competitors and explains why Ireland is still the destination of choice for so many of the world’s largest and most innovative companies.

It is also very important to acknowledge today the performance of indigenous companies that enjoyed a record year for exports in 2012, with exports from Enterprise Ireland client companies up by 6.3% to a record level of €16.2 billion. These companies are responsible for the direct and indirect employment of more than 300,000 people in Ireland. And it should be noted, of course, that the Irish companies listed in the Top 250 are just a small percentage of all of the Irish exporting companies that are helping to ensure that Ireland maintains a strong export economy.

A key priority for the Government is to support Irish SMEs to attain scale and export more. As part of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, last year Enterprise Ireland created a Potential Exporters Division to deliver a wide range of initiatives focused on helping more indigenous companies to trade in foreign markets. A €150m Development Capital Scheme was launched to address the funding gap for mid-sized Irish businesses to help them to grow to be ‘Large-scale’ companies based here in Ireland. Recently, a range of funds totalling €850million were launched to provide increased credit to SMEs, while the 10 Point Tax Plan for the SME Sector, as announced in Budget 2013, has also been implemented this year.

Overseas trade missions and Saint Patrick’s Day Ministerial travel are among the other important ways in which the Government supports Irish companies to export more. In 2012, contracts and commitments with potential value of over €200 million were signed during 16 Enterprise Ireland Ministerial trade missions, organised with the active support of my Department’s Embassy network.
Recently, I returned from leading a trade mission to Turkey during which contracts of over €30 million were agreed and I also witnessed the signature of the MoU between the IEA and TIM, their Turkish counterpart.

Before concluding, I would also like to mention briefly Ireland’s Presidency of the EU which concluded recently. As the Taoiseach said in the foreword to this publication, we identified stability, jobs and growth as our core priorities for the Presidency and we have worked tirelessly over the past six months to drive this agenda. Not least among our achievements was securing agreement on the EU’s negotiating mandate for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which I know is strongly welcomed by multinationals represented here today, as well as the many Irish companies looking to expand or develop new export markets overseas.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the Irish Exporters Association, its President Colin Lawlor, and its Chief Executive, John Whelan, on this excellent publication which, I am sure, will serve as a useful reference document for many companies involved in our export sector. 

I note that this year’s publication provides data on the number of people employed by each company. This Government is in the business of job creation and, therefore, it is useful to view the very important contribution made by Ireland’s largest exporters as major employers in Ireland.

I also welcome the inclusion again this year of an analysis of the life sciences sector in Ireland. Clearly this is a very important export sector for Ireland, accounting for approximately two-thirds of our manufacturing exports. The analysis notes that although the patent cliff has had a negative impact on our total export figures, it has had relatively limited impact on employment and, in fact, figures for the most recent quarters show an upward trend in the number of people employed in the pharma sector, which is clearly a positive development.

As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks this morning, there is no doubt that exporters face a challenging global environment.  Growing international markets will always be hard work and I want to commend again the role that the Irish Exporters Association plays under Colin and John’s leadership to support its members in this endeavour which is vital to our national economic performance. 

I am pleased that the relationship between my Department’s Trade and Promotion Division and the IEA is strong and I want to assure you all that the Embassy network is there to assist Irish exporters in every possible way. 

We look forward to continuing to work with the IEA and all those working to develop Irish export markets.  

Thank you all very much.