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Speech at the Irish Exporters Association Asia Trade Forum Launch

Minister Charles Flanagan, Trade, Speech, Asia and Oceania, 2015

Speech at the Irish Exporters Association Asia Trade Forum Launch
Offices of ESB International, Dublin
Wednesday 1 April 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have been invited here today by John Nevin, Chairman of the Asia trade Forum, to launch the 2015 Asia Trade Forum Schedule of Events. I would like to thank the Irish Exporters Association for their invitation and for their hard work in organising the Forum. The Association is a very important representative, supporter and connector of the diverse range of firms and companies exporting from Ireland.

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the many representatives of business here this morning. As a Government, we have endeavoured to work with business and to be responsive to business needs. Minister Bruton’s annual Action Plan for Jobs has been an important part of that process as have innovations such as the Export Trade Council, which I will refer to in a moment. As well as working with business, we have worked to restore stability to our country, both political and economic.

Thanks to the sacrifices of the Irish people and the ingenuity of Irish business, a recovery is taking hold. This is evident in our jobs growth - 90,000 new jobs in the last four years – in our economic growth, which saw a 4.8% surge in GDP in 2014, in the growth of domestic demand which grew in 2014 for the first time since 2007, and in our thriving export market.

It is appropriate that the launch should take place in the offices of ESB International, an Irish company that has excelled on the international stage for forty years. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate ESB International on receiving a National Champion Award for Customer Focus at the European Business Awards in February 2015.

ESB International’s success in Asia is part of a much broader story of Irish business operating in this region, which has huge potential for Irish companies. It is estimated that Asia will account for almost half of the world’s output by 2025. Home to more than one-third of the world’s population, Asia is a priority market for Irish exporters and a key focus of the Government’s trade promotion agenda.

The Government was elected in 2011 with a strong mandate to stabilise the public finances, repair the economy and deliver jobs for our people and we have worked relentlessly to achieve these goals for the last four years. Exports are the driver of Ireland’s economic recovery and the Government is very actively engaged in promoting exports to Asia through its diplomatic network, State Agencies and Government-to-Government contacts.

As many of you know, the Export Trade Council was one of a series of new measures introduced by this Government to enhance coordination and cooperation across Government, the State agencies, private sector representative bodies and private sector companies. I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Irish Exporters’ Association in this regard – in the meetings I have chaired I have found the discussions valuable and the contributions to be insightful and frank. In my role as Chair, I am acutely aware of the challenges facing Irish firms seeking to reach new markets in Asia.

The Government is acutely conscious of the critical role that Irish embassies and consulates can and do play in assisting businesses operating overseas. The trade dimension of the work of our missions abroad has been significantly enhanced in recent years and I want to assure you today that the Government, Irish Embassies and State Agencies in the region aim to assist in whatever way we can.

In 2014, new resident Embassies were opened in Thailand and Indonesia and a new Consulate General was opened in Hong Kong. Ireland now has Embassies in all of the Asian priority markets identified by the Government’s Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy. Another innovation of Government was the establishment of local market teams led by the Ambassador and including representatives of the State agencies. These now exist in the nine Asian priority markets and they are working hard to foster relationships with key stakeholders, to find opportunities for Irish exporters, and to sustain the excellent reputation of Irish business abroad.

Over the recent St. Patrick’s Day period, Government Ministers visited five key markets in Asia – China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore – to deliver the message of Ireland’s economic recovery. High-level visits such as these help to deepen bilateral relations and to highlight Ireland’s strengths as a trading partner. The Government is aware that doing business in Asia means investing time in building relationships. For this reason there has been a major step up in the intensity of visits by Government Ministers to this part of the world and we have already seen the concrete results of this for Irish exporters.

In November 2014, for example, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Simon Coveney, led an agri-food trade mission to China on a visit that included over fifty trade promotion meetings and events in five cities. Shortly after, China lifted its ban on beef imports from Ireland, paving the way for Irish access to one of the largest beef markets in the world. This was a significant endorsement of Ireland’s food safety standards and a boost for the global reputation of Irish beef. It followed from intensive political and diplomatic engagement with the Chinese authorities over several years. The value of agri-food exports from Ireland to China last year amounted to almost €620 million, a remarkable increase of almost two and a half times the level of exports in 2011.

China is now Ireland’s second-largest market for dairy exports, of which infant formula is a significant element. With the lifting of the dairy production cap this year we expect a further increase in Ireland’s dairy exports. Bord Bia predicts that China will be Ireland’s second largest market in the world for food and drink within about three years.

A Strategic Partnership Agreement between China and Ireland, launched during the Taoiseach’s visit in 2012, provides a framework to deepen bilateral engagement with this important partner. I was delighted to accompany President Higgins on his highly successful State Visit in December 2014 together with the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. While in Beijing, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at supporting closer linkages between Ireland and China. This MoU will boost research, education and technology ties between the two countries.

The opening of a Consulate General last year in Hong Kong provides Irish exporters with a direct link to this vibrant economic hub and recognises the importance this Government attaches to its relationship with China. Hong Kong is a major Asian financial hub employing over 335,000 people in the financial services sector alone. It is a gateway for Ireland into China and the wider Asian market. The Minister of State with special responsibility for international financial services, Simon Harris, visited Hong Kong in January of this year, where he participated in a high level panel at the Eighth Asian Financial Forum and undertook a series of meetings with representatives of the Hong Kong administration and business organisations.

The Japanese economy is the world’s third largest and economic links between Ireland and Japan are very strong. The visit to Ireland by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in June 2013 and the return visit to Japan by the Taoiseach six months later raised the profile of Ireland in Japan significantly. During the Taoiseach’s visit, the two leaders issued a Joint Declaration – “A Partnership for Innovation and Growth” – which set out to develop the long term relationship between the two countries. It aims to boost two-way trade, particularly in the areas of financial services, food, ICT, health-tech and eco-tech. The Taoiseach subsequently had the occasion to meet with Prime Minister Abe during the ASEM Summit in Milan in October 2014. In late 2013, after many years of lobbying by Irish Government representatives and by officials, Japan re-opened its market to Irish beef.

Ireland’s relationship with India also continues to deepen and develop. In 2012, the Embassy and State Agencies agreed a joint strategy for India which set targets and focused activity on ICT, software, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and financial services. Indigenous Irish exports to India increased by more than 25 percent in 2013 and it is hoped that this positive momentum can be maintained.

Korea offers considerable opportunity to Irish exporters, particularly with an EU Free Trade Agreement in place for the past three years. There were a number of high-level visits to Korea last year, including a trade and investment mission led by Minister Richard Bruton which targeted a range of potential export partners for Irish companies. Minister Bruton also participated in a number of business forums and met a Ministerial counterpart in the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. At the fifth session of the Ireland-Korea Joint Economic Commission in Seoul in December last, officials from the two countries discussed measures to increase bilateral trade and to develop economic, business and technological cooperation.

The South East Asian region is one of rapid economic growth and a growing middle class. The Government is well aware of the huge economic potential of this region, particularly in advance of the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community later this year. Staff from my Department are now on the ground in Bangkok and Jakarta, establishing our Embassies there and developing ties with these two high potential markets. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. There are already a small but growing number of Irish firms doing business there and we expect this activity to increase significantly in the coming years.

Singapore and Ireland are both members of the Small Advanced Economies Initiative and Singapore is a regional hub for many Irish businesses. The Minister for the Diaspora, Jimmy Deenihan, attended the Asia-Pacific Irish Business Forum in Kuala Lumpur in October 2014. Ireland has strong educational links with Malaysia, as well as with Singapore and the Philippines. Education cooperation is an important element of the bilateral trade relationship with South East Asia and a priority of the local market teams in the region.

The opportunities for Irish companies operating in Vietnam are diverse, ranging from education and information technology to the food industry and aviation. The last few years have seen Irish companies tap into a number of opportunities there for infrastructure development.

The Asian Development Bank has its headquarters in the Philippines. Ireland is a member of, and a contributor to, the Asian Development Bank, the aim of which is to help its member countries to reduce poverty through loans, technical assistance, grants, advice and knowledge sharing. There may well be openings for Irish companies to work on ADB-financed projects, for example, in the provision of infrastructure, health care services and financial and public administration systems.

I would finally like to say a word about Myanmar, a country that is opening up rapidly. This year, Yangon hosted its first ever St. Patrick’s Day reception, organised by the resident Irish community and supported by the Irish Embassy in Vietnam. There are a range of sectors in Myanmar offering opportunities to Irish business, including power generation and distribution, infrastructure, telecoms and aviation.

This is just a brief overview of the wealth of opportunities for Irish business looking to export to Asia and of the work that the Government is doing to support business and industry, to promote Ireland and opportunities there. Ireland has world class companies and world class produce. There is great potential for us in Asia, where a rapidly growing middle class is looking for high quality products and services to meet its needs.

The Government knows that doing business in Asia means investing time and resources in building relationships. It also knows that the visibility and reputation of Ireland must be promoted at every available opportunity.
The companies in this room today continue to drive the economic recovery of Ireland. I wish you all the very best and I thank once again the Irish Exporters Association for its role in supporting your work. I wish you all the best with the work of the Asia Trade Forum over the coming year. Go raibh míle maith agaibh. Thank you.