The Contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Economic Recovery28 March 2014
Speech by the Tánaiste
Dáil Éireann, 28 March 2014
Debate on JCFAT Report: The Contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Economic Recovery
I would like to thank the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade for the work done in preparing the report which has been presented to the House today. The report provides a clear analysis of the important contribution the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made and continues to make towards Irish economic recovery, and makes a number of excellent recommendations.
The conclusions of the report are well-founded, based as they are on extensive engagement with a broad range of key stakeholders, including Government Departments, State agencies and representatives of the private sector, as well as on a visit undertaken by members of the Joint Committee to study the work of the Consulates-General in Atlanta and San Francisco. The Joint Committee’s work offers many good ideas and suggestions, which my Department has been happy to receive and will form a very worthwhile input towards the ongoing enhancement of the Department’s strategic approach to the promotion of Ireland’s economic interests overseas.
Economic diplomacy – the use of diplomatic tools and approaches to promote Ireland’s economic interests abroad – has always been an important part of the work of the Department and of Ireland’s network of Embassies and Consulates abroad. The central importance of economic diplomacy was recognised explicitly by the Government in 2011, when the Department was given an expanded responsibility in the area of trade with the transfer of certain trade promotion functions from the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation.
The Government’s decision acknowledged the importance of economic diplomacy for Ireland’s economic well-being and development. Ireland has one of the most open economies in the world. Since 2010, the value of our exports has consistently exceeded our overall GDP. Foreign direct investment sustains more than 160,000 jobs in Ireland directly, and many more indirectly. Indigenous exporting companies supported by Enterprise Ireland employ 175,000 people and support a total of 300,000 jobs in the Irish economy – some 16 per cent of the workforce. The 8 million tourists who visited the island of Ireland last year helped to sustain 240,000 jobs in communities across the island.
These figures demonstrate very clearly how central the promotion of Ireland’s economic interests overseas is to the recovery and development of the domestic economy.
As the report of the Joint Committee notes, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has the leading role, in close cooperation with the State agencies, Irish business and the Global Irish Network, in fostering the international dimension of Ireland’s economic growth. The Department is committed to using its full resources, at headquarters and through the Embassy network, to promote Ireland’s economic and trading interests, cultural profile and reputation internationally.
The promotion of our economic interests abroad is a major priority across Government, and the implementation of a coordinated and strategic approach to this work is fundamental to the success of our efforts. The Government has put in place effective coordination structures which recognise the central role played by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as the role of our Ambassadors and Embassies abroad in leading the coordination of work in overseas markets.
The report highlights the important role played by the Export Trade Council, a body established by the Government in 2011 which works to strengthen cooperation and coordination across all Government Departments and State agencies involved in the promotion of trade, tourism and investment. The Council, which I chair, brings together relevant Ministers and representatives of Government Departments, as well as the Chief Executives of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and Forfás and representatives of the private sector, including, for example, IBEC and the Irish Exporters Association. The Trade and Promotion Division of my Department provides the Council’s secretariat. I am pleased to note the finding of the Joint Committee that the Export Trade Council has proved an effective instrument in identifying priorities and ensuring high-level oversight of the performance of State agencies.
The Export Trade Council oversees the implementation of the Government’s Strategy for Trade, Tourism and Investment, which guides our overseas economic work. A key task for my Department in the last year has been the coordination of a short, focused review of the Strategy to ensure that the resources of the State – both the Embassy network and State agencies – are positioned to deliver maximum overall benefit for the economy, meaning good jobs for our people at home. The outcome of the review was presented to the Export Trade Council on 6 February 2014, and has since been published. A particularly notable element of the review is the explicit alignment of the Strategy with the framework set out in the Action Plan for Jobs. Notable too is the introduction of a “new market approach” which provides enhanced guidance for Ireland’s international trade, tourism, investment and education promotion efforts, not only for the 27 priority markets identified originally, but also for an additional seven exploratory and high-potential markets.
The Export Trade Council also oversees the work of Local Market Teams, which have been established in Ireland’s 27 priority markets. These Teams are chaired by our Ambassadors on the ground and consist of representatives of the Embassy and the State agencies. Each Team is responsible for developing an annual Local Market Plan and the implementation of these plans is reviewed by the Council.
I welcome the finding of the Joint Committee that industry and employer representatives consulted in the preparation of the report indicated a very positive experience of the work of the diplomatic service. The work of the Embassy network has been an essential part of efforts to restore Ireland’s international reputation and to drive economic recovery through the promotion of trade, tourism and investment.
The scale of these efforts is notable. In 2013, the Embassy network supported a total of 136 high-level visits with a significant economic or promotional dimension across 52 countries. These included, for example, a trade mission I led to Turkey in April, organised by Enterprise Ireland in close cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy of Ireland in Ankara, during which contracts worth over €30 million to Irish businesses were agreed.
The Embassy network also undertook more than 730 engagements in the course of 2013 to facilitate trade and investment supporting Irish jobs, as well as more than 660 specific engagements to promote Ireland’s economic position to office-holders worldwide.
Ambassadors and Embassy staff engaged with over 1,150 representatives of the international media to promote Ireland’s profile and global reputation, and key messages on Ireland’s economic recovery and its strengths as a location for foreign investment were promoted in opinion articles and interviews in the international media, reaching – at a very conservative estimate – more than 53 million people.
Speeches and public presentations by Embassy staff promoted Ireland’s interests directly to audiences of over 778,000 around the world.
This engagement by the Embassy network, coordinated with the excellent work being done by the State agencies abroad, leads to real economic benefits for Ireland. It has helped to achieve the export growth which has driven our economic recovery, with export levels now significantly higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007. It helped to get us to the position we reached in 2013 when Enterprise Ireland saw the highest net gain in employment for a decade in the Irish exporting companies it supports; when IDA Ireland achieved the highest level of net job creation from foreign direct investment in more than a decade; and when agri-food exports promoted by Bord Bia reached an all-time high. The economic and promotional work of our Embassies has made a major contribution to these achievements.
The report of the Joint Committee noted the limited scale of Ireland’s diplomatic presence abroad relative to other countries of comparable size and economic interests, and recommended that consideration should be given to the strengthening of our network of diplomatic missions.
The Government is convinced that the rewards we reap from our investment in economic diplomacy far outweigh its costs. As Deputies will be aware, following the publication of the Joint Committee’s report I announced the opening of eight new diplomatic Missions – five Embassies and three Consulates-General. The selection of locations for these new Missions was well aligned with the recommendations set out in the report: Embassies will open in Bangkok, Jakarta, Nairobi and Zagreb, along with the reopening of the Embassy to the Holy See, and Consulates will be established in Hong Kong, Sao Paulo and Austin. The opening of these new missions will expand the global reach of our economic diplomacy efforts and strengthen our capacity to advance key national interests in trade, tourism and investment promotion as well as building our broader diplomatic relationship with the countries concerned.
The Programme for Government affirmed a determination to “restore Ireland’s standing as a respected and influential member of the European Union and as part of the wider international community”. In furthering this objective, our Embassy network has undertaken a sustained campaign of outreach to international political and economic leaders, investors, media and opinion-formers, to counter inaccurate coverage of Ireland and spread positive messages about the prospects of the Irish economy. Our representatives abroad are engaging across the board, with political office-holders, key parliamentary figures, senior officials, newspaper editorial boards, opinion editors, business correspondents, central bankers and industry leaders to put Ireland’s case. These efforts are supported by the Trade and Promotion Division of my Department, which works to ensure that the Embassy network is provided with the most up to date information and guidance on developments in the Irish economy and economic policy, coordinating with the Department of Finance and other relevant Departments and agencies.
These efforts have made a significant contribution to the improvement in international sentiment towards the Irish economy. Ireland’s position is now better understood by those who make and influence decisions which affect our economic prospects – by policymakers, business leaders, investors and opinion-formers. This work has helped to build renewed international confidence in Ireland’s economic future. It has created the conditions in which the Government has been able to achieve progress at European and international levels on key policy objectives relating to economic recovery, including our successful efforts to deal with the promissory note.
One of the key opportunities to spread positive messages about Ireland across the globe is provided by St. Patrick’s Day, which the report of the Joint Committee recognises as a unique and ever-growing opportunity for reputational and economic benefit which should continue to be used to the full.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy network has been extremely active in taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, supporting visits by 27 Ministers to more than 35 cities in 23 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East for a series of trade, tourism and investment-focused programmes. Embassies were in many cases instrumental in securing the “greening” of major landmarks across the globe, including the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, as part of the “Global Greening” campaign coordinated by Tourism Ireland. Embassies promoted an innovative video, produced by the Department in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland with input from the State agencies, which presented positive messages on Ireland to international audiences and has been viewed online more than 1.1 million times. They supported parades, cultural performances and business events which provided invaluable platforms for the celebration of Ireland and the promotion of our tourism, trade and investment interests.
The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade remarks in his foreword to the report that the Joint Committee’s investigations confirmed that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is well equipped for its task and that Embassies are regarded as effective partners by the State agencies and the private sector in economic promotion.
I very much welcome this conclusion, and can assure the House that my Department is determined to do all it can to further Ireland’s economic interests abroad. Across the globe, our Ambassadors and Embassy staff are working constantly towards this objective, and making a significant contribution to the success of our broader national efforts. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to work with determination and resolve to play its crucial role in supporting Ireland’s economic recovery.