Launch of the Asia Pacific Strategy: “Global Ireland: Delivering in the Asia Pacific region to 2025”
Speech09 January 2020
Remarks by Secretary General Niall Burgess
Your Excellencies, special guests,
I am delighted to have this opportunity to welcome you here today to the launch of Ireland’s new, whole-of-government strategy for Asia Pacific, Global Ireland: Delivering in the Asia Pacific region to 2025.
I would also like to take the opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year, and, of course, to wish you well as we embark on the Year of the Rat.
While the term ‘Asian Century’ has been in the popular consciousness for decades, it is undeniable that we are now living through a period of unprecedented increase in the importance and relevance of Asia Pacific to global affairs.
In terms of economic dynamism, political influence, high-tech development or excellence in the arts and culture, it is clear that the Asia Pacific region has leaders in all of these fields.
Recognition of these facts, however, is not a sufficient response. If we wish to succeed, we must do more. Ireland has internalised these developments, assessed their implications and we have now responded through this new strategy.
Since independence, we have consistently sought to expand and increase our engagement, particularly in the area of trade. Our horizons have repeatedly grown since our first mission was opened in the region in Canberra in 1946. Today we will open an important new chapter in the story of our bilateral and multilateral engagement with the region.
While Ireland is a relatively young State, the Irish people have a deep and rich history of engagement with Asia Pacific. Our earliest contacts were often led by Irish missionaries, whose religious vocation led them to build churches, schools and hospitals across the Asia Pacific region in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the counterparts I meet from the region speak with fond memories of their education under Irish priests and nuns, and this is a cherished bond which links our countries on a human level.
In setting out the Global Ireland programme in 2018, the government announced an ambitious target to double our impact and influence internationally by 2025, including in Asia Pacific.
As the Taoiseach said at that time, the reasons for seeking a greater role for Ireland on the world stage are self-evident: Technological change is transforming lives and driving change in every corner of the world. The global trading environment is experiencing a period of turbulence and volatility. And close to home, our nearest neighbour and largest trading partner is about to leave the European Union.
Crucially, however, the Taoiseach also acknowledged that geopolitical and economic power is shifting south and east.
It is in this context, of our historical links and our future ambitions, that we have developed this new strategy for the Asia Pacific region. It is the first national strategy to address our relationship with the region in over 20 years, and it is intended to act as a compass for government, for business, for academia and civil society as we seek to realise the opportunities and address the challenges of the Asia Pacific Century.
It is those opportunities – in our political partnerships, in trade, and people-to-people exchange – and those challenges – in climate change, gender, maintenance of the rules-based international order and support for multilateralism – that I plan to touch on here today.
For the purposes of this strategy, we have designated the Asia Pacific region as stretching from Japan in the East to Pakistan in the West and New Zealand in the South, and encompassing all of the Small Island Developing States in the region.
It comprises countries with a close affinity to each other, and those where deep political differences exist. It is a region home to more than 4 billion people, and includes six of the 20 largest global economies. In fact, in Japan and China, it includes two of the three largest economies in the world. It includes countries right at the top of the Human Development Index, and others that are in its lower ranks. There are linguistic, cultural and ethnic divergences, which preclude any ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
In spite of these differences, in each country in the region we find common values and shared experiences that act as a platform for mutual understanding and partnership.
In the past, our approach to engagement with these countries may have appeared a bit narrow and too trade-focused at times. Our new strategy takes a holistic approach to our relations with the region. It draws the roadmap and sets out the milestones in how Ireland will structure and focus its relationship with the region up to 2025.
It is designed around five high level, strategic objectives:
- First, we want to be a respected, informed and engaged strategic partner. We are ready to listen as much as we are to talk, and we want to develop our capacity to analyse and contextualise the developments that take place.
- Second, we want to massively increase our economic and commercial engagement, and achieve a two-way trading relationship of €100 billion by 2025. That is a significant step up from the €56 billion we achieved in 2018, and it will require a real focus by government and business if we are to make it a reality. It is, however, a realistic target if we can sustain the momentum in our trade with the region since 2008, when our total trade was just €23 billion.
- Third, we want to support the more than 100,000 Irish-born people who reside in the region and meet their needs, but we also want to realise the potential that they represent. We will utilise the strength of our diaspora in the expression of our soft power, and as a critical tool in the development of our economic links. We will also promote our culture, both as an important asset in its own right, but also as a vehicle to help us achieve other goals.
- Fourth, we want Ireland to be more visible, as a partner for governments, but also as an economic partner for industry, as a welcoming destination for students and tourists, and as a source of world-class food and drink. We will step-up our public diplomacy, so that more people than ever know us for what we are best at.
- Fifth and finally, we know that if we are to achieve these goals, we must work better together as a government and as a country in support of our complementary goals.
Underpinning these five high-level objectives are a series of over 60 distinct actions, which will make our ambition in this strategy a reality. A small, dedicated secretariat to monitor and implement it has already been created within my department, and they will work with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that we remain on track.
Ireland is now represented in the region by 15 missions in 11 countries. Six of these missions have been added in the past six years, including our new embassy in Wellington and the Consulate General in Mumbai, both of which opened in the last 18 months in the context of Global Ireland.
That footprint will increase further in the near future. Later this year, we will open a new embassy in Manila, and after that a third consulate in China, bringing us to 17 in total.
Those missions are complemented by an increasing number of new offices and additional staff from the economic agencies, both in the region and in Dublin. Last year we saw the opening of a new Enterprise Ireland office in Melbourne, and the opening of a Bord Bia office in Tokyo. The IDA, Tourism Ireland and Culture Ireland either all have stepped up or have ambitious plans for their own engagement with the region.
And as Ireland increases its investment, I hope and expect to see similar enhancements in Dublin. Not from a sense of reciprocity, but because leaders in Asia Pacific recognise the valuable opportunities available in Ireland and the European Union. The Embassy of New Zealand, opened in 2018, is just the latest in a growing number of countries which have a permanent presence here.
We in Ireland are certainly conscious of the success and importance that investors from the Asia Pacific region play in our economy. Thousands of jobs are directly and indirectly supported by companies from Asia and Australasia, and the extent of their investment in Ireland is a testament to the efforts of agencies like the IDA, as well as the attractiveness of Ireland as a highly-educated, English-speaking economy in the EU and the Eurozone.
Irish political and economic diplomacy, however, is not just a matter of ‘boots on the ground’. In order to have an impact, our diplomats and economic representatives must also be able to convey a message of what we stand for in the world.
Ireland is an honest and dependable partner for governments, for businesses and for civil society. We have core values: our support for the rules-based international order; the centrality of our EU membership to our international engagement; our belief that human rights are universal and immutable; and our support for our diaspora.
These values are the foundation upon which we build our relationships and looking through this strategy, you will see them coming through in all areas of our work.
I believe that these are common values we share with countries in Asia Pacific, and that we can use them as a platform from which to build long-term, strategic relationships throughout the region.
Ireland is also a champion of a strong multilateral system, and we will continue to work closely with countries from across the region in multilateral fora as we seek solutions to the common challenges we face.
Our experience in the EU and UN has taught us that cooperation with others strengthens rather than diminishes our sovereignty. Ireland understands multilateralism as a process of consensus building and compromise. As a small country, but one with a distinct voice, we rely on effective multilateralism, be it with our European partners, in New York and Geneva at the UN, or at rule making bodies like the WTO.
The question, not only for Ireland, but also for all of the countries represented here today and in this strategy, is: How do we advocate for and protect multilateralism in the institutions that matter?
The answer begins with leading by example in our own domestic policy, but also identifying how we can act together to create a collective momentum for the right kind of global politics.
This strategy aims towards both of these goals, by establishing a proactive, all-of government policy for the region, and creating the context for increased engagement and collaboration with our partners in Asia Pacific.
We know that this means we must make our contribution and, as an example of this, last year we launched our third Women Peace and Security National Action Plan, which is ambitious and focused on both or national and international action.
We also launched a new policy for international development assistance, again focused on the lessons of multilateral engagement; allowing Ireland to build on our reputation for supporting, through partnership, those most in need, including in Asian Least Developed Countries. The policy also for the first time fully integrates climate action as a priority, along with governance, humanitarian engagement, and gender equality, and commits to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development assistance by 2030.
At the heart of all these issues – multilateralism, sustainable development, gender equality, fair trade, and peacekeeping – is the United Nations.
That is why we are seeking election to the Security Council in June 2020, and I believe we will have widespread support from the countries of the Asia Pacific region.
With Ireland, you know what you get – a small country with big thinking, a country that listens, and a strong independent voice that promotes the values that should inspire the UN in the future. I hope we can look forward to the support of the many countries represented in the room here today, based on our common values, interests and on the strength of our track record.
As the number and intensity of our exchanges increase, as is envisioned in this strategy, I hope that the strength of our bilateral economic partnerships will also increase.
We have set ourselves ambitious targets in the areas of financial services, food and agriculture, tourism and education up to 2025, and the work of Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Tourism Ireland and Education in Ireland will be vital in this regard.
That work, which takes place both in the region, and at a HQ level in Dublin, will be complemented by enhanced engagement at political and official level in the months and years ahead.
Our new strategy is the product of extensive consultations, and it incorporates the views and goals of all the relevant stakeholders. It has been specifically designed as a whole-of-government response to the economic opportunities in Asia Pacific. It is only by working closely together that we can capitalise on our success to date, and to achieve our ambition of €100 billion in two-way trade by the year 2025.
Ireland’s economic diplomacy is rooted in our EU membership, and we see huge opportunities for EU-Asia trade in the coming years. The implementation of the EU’s Free Trade Agreements with Singapore, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, and the conclusion of further FTAs with ASEAN countries and New Zealand and Australia, will deliver real benefits to our businesses. They will also send a powerful and positive message on trade and the value of these agreements in facilitating mutual economic growth and prosperity.
One of the tools at our disposal is the Asia Pacific Regional Fund, administered by this department. This fund is a resource for our missions in the region to organise initiatives that promote our values, and to showcase Ireland as a partner for trade and investment, as a place to visit on holiday, a place to study, and as a world-class source of food and drink.
In 2019, almost 80 projects, representing €400,000 of investment by this department, were delivered across our 15 missions. This is a radical increase on our performance in previous years, and as our public and economic diplomacy grows in line with this cross-government strategy, we will further increase the financial resources available for this type of work.
Of course, while the extent of our economic partnerships is quantifiable in terms of trade and investment, an essential human dimension must also be nurtured and supported by government.
By our latest estimates, about 100,000 Irish-born people reside in the Asia Pacific region at this time. This diaspora is heavily based in Australia, with about 75,000 living there, but we also see a welcome trend of new diaspora communities in ASEAN countries, in China, India and elsewhere. Many of these people are the new generation of educators, who will someday return to Ireland with fond memories of their experience and be ready to act as bridge-builders between our two cultures.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to those ambassadors and representatives from Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines regarding the tragic loss of life and terrible suffering inflicted by the wildfires in Australia, Typhoon FAN-PHONE in the Philippines and the flooding in Jakarta. These disasters stand as further warnings that we, as an international community, must live up to the commitments of the Paris Agreement and increase our efforts to forestall and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Irish people increasingly understand the terrible consequences of climate change and its impact on people around the world.
With the aim of fostering people-to-people contact with the Asia Pacific region, I am pleased to announce this morning the first deliverable of the Asia Pacific strategy: The government has approved a doubling of the numbers available for the very successful Ireland-Japan Working Holiday Programme, from 400 to 800 places. This decision will facilitate an increased level of cultural exchange, and paves the way for even closer ties between our two countries.
This is only a first step: Under this strategy, we are committed to a review of the other working holiday programmes in place with Australia, China, Korea and New Zealand, and we look forward to similarly expanding them where appropriate.
It is worth noting that, according to the last census in 2016, almost 50,000 people from the Asia Pacific region are living, working and studying in Ireland. I am happy that people from Asia Pacific are made to feel welcome here and that there is widespread appreciation of the important role they play in our communities, our society and our economy. They are indeed most welcome.
And we recognise, in particular, the key role that nurses, midwives and doctors from Asia, play in our health system. While health professionals come from across the region, those from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines have had an outstanding impact and provide important care to the sick at their time of need. We are very grateful for their contribution.
In closing, I would like to note the work being done by the people here today to make the enhanced Ireland-Asia Pacific relationship a reality. You are the stakeholders of this strategy, and the good place we now find ourselves in is a direct result of your efforts.
To the ambassadors from countries in the region, thank you for your continued support of Ireland’s relationship with your country. I encourage you to reach out to officials in this department to assess how this strategy might be enacted in regard to your country. Any views and ideas you might have would be most welcome.
To our ambassadors, thank you for your tireless efforts to promote our political and economic interests in this region. Asia Pacific has never been as important to Ireland’s future as it is now – both in terms of the opportunities we see, and in the common challenges we face.
To officials from other departments and the state agencies, thank you for your dedication and hard work to increase the competitiveness and strength of our exporters, and to improve the attractiveness of Ireland as a place to visit, study and invest in. This cross-government strategy provides a strong platform for our common efforts to further build the Irish economy and create more jobs in the years up to 2025.
And finally, thank you to those representatives from academia and civil society, who do so much of the front-line work in the Ireland-Asia Pacific relationship building. We look forward to continuing to engage with you in the near future as we seek to make this strategy a reality and to support your efforts.