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Asia Business Week 2014 - Keynote address by an Tánaiste


Lord Mayor, Chairman, Vice Minister, Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure for me to address this gathering of some of the people most centrally involved in building relationships between Ireland and the countries of Asia, and to address the changing priorities in Ireland and Asia’s business relations.

I would like at the outset to pay tribute to Alan Dukes and Martin Murray of Asia Matters, and to the Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn and Dublin City Council, the Dublin Institute of Technology – and all the sponsors – for their dedication and hard work in organising such an impressive programme of events and meetings this week, and also to acknowledge the support of the speakers, State agencies, and a number of other bodies too.

Of course, the reason we are all here is because ‘Asia matters’. What happens in Asia directly affects the wider world, and it matters in particular to a small, open economy such as Ireland.

There is a growing awareness that this century will be the Asian century, and in recent years we have seen the emergence of a more globalised world, brought closer by technology and trade, yet still grappling with the international challenges of conflict, environmental change, and poverty. That is why this Government has demonstrated our commitment to building relations with Asia most recently in the recent decision to open three new diplomatic missions in the region, in Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Currently, Asia represents more than half of the world’s population and is the most dynamic and fastest-growing economic region in the world.

In the past 20 years, China and India have almost tripled their share of the global economy and increased their absolute economic size almost six times over. Nine of the 10 fastest-growing mega-cities in the world are in Asia.

The region has been resilient through the global financial crisis and has experienced consistent average annual GDP growth rates in the range of 5% to 8%.

And it is not just economic progress; today, four of the world’s five highest performing education systems are now in Asia, in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea.

The rise of Asia presents huge opportunities for the world – and challenges. These include poverty, the effects of climate change, underdeveloped infrastructure, competition over scarce resources and fragile institutions and governance.

So today I want to talk about the opportunities that lie ahead as our bilateral relationship with this vital region develops and matures, and how Irish talent and ‘know how’ may offer solutions to shared challenges.

Ireland exported over €15 billion in goods and services to Asia in 2012 and imported close to €8 billion. These figures form a crucial part of an overall export performance that has underpinned Ireland’s economic recovery, and laid the basis for sustained employment growth over the past two years.

But these figures only tell part of the story. The broader picture is the increasing links that we in Ireland are forging with the countries of Asia. It is the story of Irish companies such as PM Group winning contracts in Myanmar. It is Malaysian students coming to Ireland to study medicine. It is young graduates from UCC participating in the Farmleigh Fellowship in Singapore.

These personal connections complement and sustain the increasing and vital business connections between Ireland and Asia.


The Government has been proactively promoting all such links. I visited China last August and was struck by both the huge scale of development, but also the numerous links which now exist between Ireland and China, including, as you have marked here this week, the twinning of Beijing and Dublin.

Indeed, I am delighted that Ireland’s diplomatic presence in China will be expanded in the coming months with the opening of a new Consulate General in Hong Kong which will work alongside the Embassy and state agencies to promote Ireland in China.

High-level visits are also a key platform for expanding and deepening the relationship. So far this year, my colleagues the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar have been in China promoting Ireland as a destination for investment, tourism and education. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, will be visiting later this month, with a delegation of Irish companies. We have also welcomed a growing number of high level incoming visits from China.

Other positive developments include the launch of the China Ireland Technology Fund in January of this year. This fund will target investment in both Irish technology companies with ambitions to access the China market, and Chinese technology companies who wish to access the European market via Ireland.

Irish food and drink exports to China have tripled in the past three years, growing 40% in 2013. China is now Ireland’s second largest market for dairy exports, and in the coming years will be Ireland’s second largest market for food and drink, behind only the UK.


Korea has been among the fastest-growing OECD countries during the past decade with growth rates expected to reach 4% in 2014. It is a major player in the global information and communications technology field. It is also a leader in R&D investment – investing 4.7% of GDP in research. As Korea meets new challenges to become less reliant on manufacturing and to care for an ageing population, Irish exporters will see new opportunities in areas such as life sciences and the services sector.

Ireland has a strong trading relationship with Korea but it is one that offers greater potential. Korea is unique in the Asia Pacific region in having a Free Trade Agreement with the EU fully in operation, which offers strong benefits for EU exporters. Recognising the opportunities Korea offers, the IDA opened an office there in 2013 and this year Enterprise Ireland have substantially expanded their operations in Seoul. Building on this work my colleague, Minister Bruton, will lead a trade mission to Korea on 26 and 27 June.


Our relations with Japan have gone from strength to strength over the past year. The first ever visit to Ireland by a serving Japanese Prime Minister took place last June and the Taoiseach had a very successful visit to Japan in December.  Following many years of pro active lobbying, during that visit he was able to announce the re-opening of the Japanese market for Irish beef.

Japan is a country that requires a high level of engagement to be successful, as those of you who do business there can testify. In addition to the Taoiseach’s visit, the past year has seen visits to Japan by Minister Bruton, Minister of State Sherlock and Minister Fitzgerald. These political contacts are important to ensure that the profile of Ireland is maintained in Japan.

The third Top Economist Round Table was held in Tokyo last September, bringing together an impressive array of speakers to discuss the recent recovery in the Japanese economy. A return to real growth in the world’s third largest economy is something which will open up substantial new opportunities for Irish business, as will the free trade agreement between the EU and Japan which is currently being negotiated. Japan also continues to be a significant source of inward investment to Ireland with the recent acquisition of the Cooley distillery by Suntory being the latest example, continuing a tradition of Japanese investment in Ireland that stretches back over 50 years.


In the ASEAN region, while the main economies also face challenges – and vast differences exist in ethnicity, language, religion, culture, governing ideologies, and physical, legal and political infrastructure – most projections point to a continuous period of prosperous growth in Southeast Asia.


Turning to Vietnam, I am very pleased today to welcome Vice Minister Bui Thanh Son and Ambassador Minh to this conference. I believe your presence reflects the deepening relationship between our two countries. Our trade with Vietnam has been growing consistently, up 20% this year. I am delighted that the pig meat and pork market in Vietnam is now open to Irish companies. And with a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Vietnam on track for later this year, I expect trade to grow even further in the next few years.

A number of leading Irish universities and Institutes of Technology have already concluded bilateral agreements with their Vietnamese counterparts to exchange students, and to have joint courses.

Ireland also offers scholarships for some 40 talented Vietnamese students each year to study in Ireland. I believe that those future leaders of their country will follow the example of Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, who was educated at TCD and UCD, and who has continued to be a great friend of Ireland.


Another developing relationship is with Myanmar/Burma, which has made huge strides towards democracy, and is opening up rapidly. As I mentioned, PM Group has won a contract for a major urban regeneration project in Mandalay. I know that ESBI are in the running for a contract for the regeneration of Yangon’s ageing electricity infrastructure. And Ireland’s global niche in the aviation services sector also extends to Burma, where aircraft leased from Aer Arann are now flying with some of the country’s leading domestic airlines. Although our trade volumes are still low, the scale of the investment in Myanmar/Burma means that opportunities are opening up in the country all the time. In particular, the Burmese themselves have highlighted the dairy sector as having great potential, and I would encourage our leading dairy producers to look at this emerging market of up to 60 million people.


2014 marks the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s diplomatic relations with Singapore. The rapid economic development of Singapore over that period has proven to be a template for other Asian countries, as they move up the value chain.

In February of this year , the first joint Ireland-UK-Northern Ireland trade mission, headed by Minister Richard Bruton, alongside Minister Stephen Hammond from the UK and Minister Arlene Foster from Northern Ireland, took place in Singapore, and successfully focused on opportunities at the Singapore Air Show.

In March, my colleague the Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, also visited Singapore.

As I mentioned, the partnership between University College Cork and Nanyang University continues, with recruitment underway of the fourth cohort of Farmleigh Fellows – a non-profit programme that supports an annual cohort of young Irish talent by enabling them to develop the business, culture and communication skills necessary to succeed in Asia – to be placed in Singapore and the wider region from January 2015. Closer education links are also well underway with Trinity, UCD, and DIT partnering effectively with Singapore.


Ireland’s relations with South East Asia received a considerable boost this year with the decision by the Government to open a resident Embassy in Jakarta. This decision was, to be frank, long overdue as Indonesia was the only G20 country where we were not represented. As Martin Murray, our Honorary Consul for Indonesia, can attest, this country of 250 million people is already a hugely important regional actor, and continues to develop rapidly. It is vitally important for Ireland to have a voice there, to promote our interests and to develop the bilateral relationship.


The Philippines continues to make good progress in recovering from the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan. The Irish Government was very pleased to be in a position to provide significant aid towards reconstruction, with Minister Costello visiting in March to see developments at first hand and to strengthen further our bilateral relationship with the Philippine government. Looking ahead, we will continue to develop our links with the Philippines and look forward to increased interaction and exchanges.


Our relationship with Malaysia continues to be heavily focused on education. While traditionally this has centred on medical education, Ireland has begun to attract Malaysian students to study other, non-medical subjects including biotechnology, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, food technology, nutrition and agriculture.

Minister Bruton had the opportunity to visit some of the Malaysian education institutions which are sending students to Ireland when he visited Malaysia in February this year.

Malaysia is also home to some significant overseas investment by Irish companies, including by the likes of Openet, Steripack, Kerry, and CRH.


In January this year the Government decided to establish an Embassy in Thailand in order to strengthen and deepen our ties with this important country, including economic and trade relations.

Since then, as we all know, the military have seized control of the country. I, along with other EU Foreign Ministers, have called on the military to uphold international human rights standards and establish a timetable for a return to democracy as soon as possible.

While this situation is of obvious concern, we remain committed to strengthening our relationship with the people of Thailand. Preparations for the opening of the new Embassy are continuing.


Finally, the relationship between Ireland and India is getting ever stronger, in particular in the areas of trade, investment, tourism and education.

2013 was a record year in each of these sectors, with four major investments in Ireland by Indian businesses in the tech sector. Simultaneously, indigenous Irish exports to India increased significantly, with particular growth in the services sector. Ireland also attracted more Indian tourists in 2013 than ever before, with more than 25,000 visiting our country – an increase of nearly 20 percent on 2012. There was also strong growth in the number of Indian students choosing Ireland for third level and post-graduate education following a concentrated recruitment campaign under the banner of Education in Ireland. Simultaneously, more Irish companies than ever are looking to invest in India. For example, Kerry Group opened a new facility near Delhi during 2013 and CRH continues to build its business in the southern part of the country.

The challenge for the embassy, state agencies and Irish business community will be to maintain this momentum. The signs in 2014 are positive and with a new sense of optimism emerging in India we are confident that the relationship will continue to grow – to the benefit of both countries. In particular we are hopeful that talks will resume on an economic partnership agreement between the EU and India once the new Government in Delhi has bedded in.

Lord Mayor, Distinguished guests,

Even a very brief run through of developments with regard to our major partners in Asia shows the scale of our engagement and the opportunities ahead.

I know that there are many relevant speakers lined up to address you this morning so I will conclude by noting that the Government is fully committed to, and is doing all it can to promote trade, investment and other links between Ireland and the countries of Asia.

Asia has much to offer us, and, equally, Ireland has a huge amount to offer to Asia: first class food and agri-products and services, leading financial and legal services, excellent education programmes, world-class high-tech companies, the best location for inward investment in Europe, and much more. Our cities are also increasingly engaging in important partnerships with Asian counterparts.

The Government will continue to do all it can to support and develop these multi-faceted relationships with all of the countries of Asia. We take this responsibility seriously and are committed to expanding and extending cooperation between our two regions.

Thank You.