Export Trade Council January Meeting: Risks, Resilience and the E.U. Agenda

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., convened a meeting of the Export Trade Council on Tuesday, 26th January. It was the last meeting of the Council under the current Government and the Minister took the opportunity to thank everyone for their contribution to the Council since it was established in 2011; his fellow Ministers, senior Departmental officials, the heads of the Agencies and the private sector members.

The infographic (see below) was prepared for the Council by Declan Hughes of the Strategic Policy Division of the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation.  It, along with his crystalline presentation to the Council, illustrated the huge success in meeting and exceeding the targets set out in the Government Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy.  There was however no mood of complacency, with a focus on anticipating challenges and risks ahead.

At plenary session of the meeting, the private sector members’ paper on Competitiveness and Growth was presented by Caroline Keeling of Keelings,  an Irish family owned company specializing in producing fresh produce and the technology that goes with large scale food production.  Caroline’s presentation generated a very energised discussion between private sector members and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton T.D., of risks and how to mitigate them. Topics discussed included competitiveness and costs arising from such factors as insurance and housing; currency fluctuations, especially the euro vis-à-vis the dollar and sterling; the prospect of global interest rate rises, now that the US had gone ahead on this; the supply of critical skills; fluctuating demand in key markets; the impact of sanctions on Russia on our agri-business trade there; the challenges and opportunities of the TTIP (TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and a completion of the Doha Round of the WTO trade negotiations; maintaining our comparative advantages in the highly competitive contest for international investment; and the uncertainties of Brexit.

Council members agreed that mitigation lies in acknowledging these and dealing with them when you can; market diversification; deepening awareness of Brand Ireland globally; fostering native entrepreneurship and meeting critical skills gaps; completing the single EU market; the full exploitation of all opportunities for Irish business aboard; and of course effective coordination.

One area of notable interest that arose in discussion was the all-island economy, the progress bench-marked by the North-South Ministerial Council, the effectiveness of Tourism Ireland and the potential for mutually beneficial synergies. The over-riding objective was a point of consensus within the Council, namely economic resilience in an uncertain global economy.

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin addressed the Council on the coordination of cultural promotion and Ministerial overseas travel. Minister Ó Ríordáin emphasised the importance of cultural promotion in its own right, not just as an add-on to trade missions. The year 2016 would be particularly important in this regard and offer plenty of opportunities for the promotion of Irish arts and culture.

An important item on the agenda was the impact of the EU on Irish business. Our Ambassador to the EU, Declan Kelleher, and our Deputy there, Ambassador Tom Hanney, joined the Council to offer their insights on this critical and often underestimated area.

In his commanding overview, Declan noted the shifts he had detected within the EU since his previous posting there, including the growing significance of the European Parliament, the strength of lobbyists, the emergence of German leadership, the shift to the east, and the fact that Ireland, as a now net contributor to the EU, should seek to assert its influence in all spheres of EU activity.

In terms of Irish business, Declan pointed to a number of critical trade negotiations that lie ahead, including TTIP, Mercosur (the big two being Brazil and Argentina), and China’s market economy status within the WTO. The Data Protection issue will have huge implications for business and privacy. In terms of financial services, the 2008 crisis had given rise to some forty pieces of legislation but Declan noted that their implementation is now viewed from the perspective of generating growth, creating jobs and protecting both SMEs and individuals. The Capital Markets Union offers Irish SMEs in particular huge opportunities and its emergence deserves serious attention, he said.

Ambassador Tom Hanney noted that the current climate negotiations on carbon reduction would have a huge and pervasive impact on our behaviour as businesses, households and individuals. Those negotiations are zero sum and they will therefore be tough and highly consequential for Ireland. Tom gave insights into EU business regulation and the scale of the impact of the single digital market. Tom offered an important message to the Council; any businesses impacted by EU regulation should call on our Mission in Brussels and let them know. They were keen to listen and to help. Both Declan and Tom commended the work of the IBEC office in Brussels and the strength of their working relationship with them.

Minister Flanagan, as chair, adjourned this last meeting of the Council but invited the members to a working dinner to review the body’s performance and future direction. He noted that the Council has proven to be a very strong platform for the coordination of our collective efforts in advancing Irish trade overseas. Given the mix of members, it had evolved as a body with a clear sense of identity, common purpose and functions. The Minister chaired a discussion on the future direction of the Council, building on the consultations that I and my colleague, the Council’s Secretary, Keith McBean had been having with the private sector members. The discussion revealed deep agreement on the Council’s added value and a sense too that its direction of travel was correct, namely a focus on ever more effective coordination, a keen and dynamic awareness of economic risks and bottlenecks, and a willingness to openly exchange views on what needs to be done and then following up on delivery.

Keith is departing in the summer to be Ireland’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. The Minister and Council members commended his outstanding performance as Secretary. I would like to add my own thanks to him and the team for his leadership on this initiative. And indeed I would add my thanks to the work of my predecessor as DG Trade Division, Colm Ó Floinn, now Ambassador to Finland, who guided the formative years of the Council and helped create it as a new and essential forum for strategy and implementation.


Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

ETC January 2016 Infographic


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Trading Better: Minister sets New Course for our Embassies

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, hosted a business networking event at Iveagh House.  The purpose was two-fold.  Convening representatives from Irish business, the agencies, representative organisations and the government, has an inherent value.  It brings people together who often do not have the opportunity to do so and this inevitably generates new opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of ideas.

And since all business is founded on relationships, the Department’s convening power is a particularly  valuable asset.  We do this all the time in Embassies abroad and it is equally if not more important to do so at home.  Indeed since Iveagh House was built on the business acumen of the Guinness clan, you could argue that trade is in its very bricks and mortar.

The Minister’s second purpose was to brief Ireland’s key business stakeholders on the Department’s plans to enhance our capacity to assist Ireland’s companies grow through overseas market opportunities.  We have a strong and growing Embassy network (over eighty missions around the world) and our Ambassadors, diplomats and staff overseas are keen to help.  In a challenging global environment we must explore and exploit every market opportunity.

The Minister’s speech places our economic narrative in a strategic context.  It is a signal text that sets us in a new direction, one that will guide the Department, inter-agency collaboration and our Mission network in the years ahead.


Business networking reception, Iveagh House, 19 January 2016

Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charles Flanagan T.D.


Minister of State Harris, Distinguished guests, business leaders, secretaries general, heads of agencies, distinguished colleagues from across the public and private sector, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to welcome you to the warmth of Iveagh House on this dark January evening. The aim of this evening is to provide a space for colleagues, friends and associates from the public and private sectors to meet, network and share ideas about how we collectively do business with the wider world and how, as a small trading nation, we can best ensure sustainable prosperity.

Since the Government acquired it, Iveagh House has been associated with international diplomacy and key events in our diplomatic history, including the Northern Ireland peace process. Success on this front has been of huge benefit to the country.

Indeed only last November we assembled here in this very room to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the key foundational document for the peace process. The peace process was dealing with the consequences of our history in general and of partition in particular.

The political consequences of partition have been foremost in our minds. Less obviously but no less significantly has been another consequence of partition. In 1922, the newly independent state of Ireland found itself cut off from its industrial base in and around Belfast. For the first fifty or more years of our independence, Irish political and business leaders struggled with how to develop as a modern economy.

In 1949, Daniel Morrissey, the Minister for Industry and Commence in the first InterParty government took what was to be a momentous decision for the economic history of this country. He established the Industrial Development Authority, the success of which has been the platform for a progression from relative poverty on independence to our success today.

The Irish economy is of course more than FDI. Through successful targeting and nurturing, we have built some hugely strong sectors: Agri-business, ICT, Medical Devices, Financial Services, Aviation, Bio-Pharma and tourism. All of these are supported in some way by the Government and our Agencies, including IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia. They are also supported by a strong and creative research and development sector. The recent positive stream of job announcements by the State Agencies underlie these successes.

However, we can never allow ourselves to be complacent or satisfied with the status quo. Alongside the need for constant innovation and agility to respond to industry trends, there are also significant challenges and risks ahead – the possibility of a British exit from the EU, the ongoing migration crisis and the current volatility in emerging markets to name just a few.

In the face of a volatile external environment, we must ensure that we remain at all times economically resilient. These are vital discussions and dealing with them is a hugely important part of our collective responsibility.

We must build economic resilience to protect jobs in Ireland.


This government recognises the role that exports play in supporting Irish jobs. Supporting Irish exports was a central element of the ground-breaking annual Action Plan for Jobs which has delivered 135,000 jobs across Ireland since the first such Plan was introduced in 2012.

A key aspect of the Annual Action Plan is its aversion to silos and its allocation of responsibilities to all Government Departments and, in the regional plans, to Local Authorities, and other partners. While it is a whole of Government Plan, great credit is due to my colleague, Minister Richard Bruton, for his exceptional work in this initiative.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach spoke about creating an additional 200,000 jobs between now and 2020 in order to reach full employment. Exports will play a crucial role in adding these new jobs. And as we look to enhance employment opportunities, we must also ensure that we build-in economic resilience to ensure our progress is sustainable.

In December, the Central Bank stated that as “a small open economy, sustainable increases in Irish standards of living are driven by steady export growth”. I agree with this assessment and believe that now is the time to take action to underpin our exports and secure the standard of living that we have all worked so hard to achieve.

To do this we must diversify our markets, expand our indigenous trade and promote Ireland as a leader for FDI in our strongest sectors, including bio-pharma, medtech, financial services, agri-business, tourism, aviation and ICT.

Economic diplomacy and a stepped-up approach by my Department to trade – through the Export Trade Council at home and our State Agencies and Embassies abroad – are vital tools for our future economic resilience and security.

The Export Trade Council has proven to be a strong and valued platform. The Council, which I chair as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is a forum which brings together all Ministers whose Departments are active in the export space – namely:

  • The Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; for Agriculture, Food, the Marine and Defence; for Transport, Tourism and Sport, for Education and Skills and the Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North South Co-operation;
  • The State agencies, which we work in close and constructive partnership with at home and abroad are members: Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland;
  • Other relevant Government Departments and agencies: Departments of the Taoiseach, of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Revenue Commissioners; and
  • The thirteen private sector members who bring a very valued perspective to the Council’s deliberations.

The Council will continue to serve us well as our economic narrative now turns to ensuring economic resilience. Indeed, I believe that the Council and all its stakeholders have a critical role to play in uniting and coordinating our collective efforts behind the drive for economic resilience and sustainable prosperity.

A new approach to trade and business   


Market diversification is crucial for Ireland’s long term economic sustainability, as recognised in the Government’s Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, and its Review of 2014.

Over the lifetime of this government, we have invested considerable resources in supporting Irish businesses in new and emerging markets. At political level, the Taoiseach and a lot of Ministers have led trade missions across the world, including to China, India, South Africa and the Gulf region. We have also received the Chinese and Indian Prime Ministers here in Ireland. We realise that those high-level relationships are key to underpinning Ireland’s trading success in those markets.

Stronger political relationships have been supported on the ground through the strategic deployment of our diplomatic resources. In 2014, the government opened new missions in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Kenya, Texas and Brazil – all now fully operational and available to support Irish businesses.

This is not a one-off process and this year I will ask the Secretary General of my Department to review the Embassy Network and to consider where else our resources can be deployed.

The next step is to the Embassy network with the resources to remain proactive and open more business hubs for our ever eager exporters.

For 2016, my Department will adopt a new approach to supporting Ireland’s trade promotion activities in three critical areas:

First, we will establish new market promotion funds to give our embassies more capacity and autonomy to pursue trade and wider promotional opportunities;

Second, we will deepen the links between the Embassy network and Irish business through a new programme of secondments and an increased flow of critical data on our exporting sectors and companies;

Finally, we will establish a network of locally-hired commercial attachés to extend the range and impact of our Embassies’ activities in support of trade.

This process is being driven by a newly-configured Trade Division which is led by Director General Eamonn McKee, and Directors Keith McBean and Jonathan Conlon.

We are open for business


Our new approach will augment the already important work that my Department and the Embassy network undertakes on a daily basis to promote Irish business.

The Embassy network act as first movers and pioneers, feeding back critical information and opportunities to the private sector and to the state agencies. For example, our Ambassador in Addis Ababa, Aidan O’Hara, played a key role in facilitating Dublin Airport as a hub for Ethiopian Airlines – a move that brought vital business to the facility and helped open Irish trade with the huge African market.

The diplomatic brand provides access for Irish businesses to high-level officials, academic and market contacts. A good example of this was in February last year, when Ireland became the first EU member state to have its exporting beef ban to China lifted.  In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the work of Ambassador Paul Kavanagh and his team.

At the same time we became the first, and to date the only, EU Member State to secure beef access to the US market which already has generated over €12m in exports. Both of these successes were achieved through close collaboration between our Embassies, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia combining to provide the necessary technical, diplomatic and political inputs to unlock these markets.

Tonight as we speak there is a high level Chinese inspection team arriving in Dublin for a twelve-day visit which we believe is the next stage in completing the technical requirements to allow exports of Irish beef there to commence.

Embassies also provide assistance towards resolving specific regulatory difficulties for Irish exporters.

I saw this first hand last year when a company from my own constituency, Finline Furniture, required assistance from the Consulate in Shanghai. The Consulate worked tirelessly to ensure that Finline were able to exhibit and showcase their goods, as a result of which they won orders.

Embassies also have a resource of enormous value to us, namely their relationship with the global Irish.

This takes many forms, including the Global Irish Network (GIN), local business chambers, forums such as the GAA-supported Asia Ireland Pacific Business Forum, more sector-focused gatherings, and online communities.

We are currently examining the outputs of the recent Global Irish Economic Forum, but one thing is clear: the GIN and the global Irish are committed to Ireland as economic ambassadors in a competitive world. And the government in turn is committed to a deep and long-term relationship with them, done primarily through our diplomats posted abroad.

Our embassies and the diplomatic brand can mobilise these resources to stretch our reach and our access to key decision-makers in governments and business around the world. Networking the global Irish is another vital form of economic diplomacy.

Looking to the future


The Export trade Council, which I chair, is one of the key bodies introduced by this Government, greatly improving cooperation and coordination between the different arms of the Irish government overseas.

These measures have created efficiencies for the taxpayer and have a multiplier effect on all of our efforts abroad.

At our last meeting, I invited the members of the Council to reflect on our last four years and to look forward to how we might adjust and improve what we do. My officials are currently consulting with the members and I will convene a meeting of the Council later this month where we will share those reflections and look to the future.

While I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, it is clear to me that, to build on our success, any new strategic approach that seeks to drive trade, tourism and investment for Ireland should include two principles: even deeper coordination across the relevant Government Departments and State Agencies; and sector-specific coordination with business.

The feedback I get from the private sector members of the Export Trade Council and from our Embassy network is that Ireland is strongest when it speaks with one voice.

We can see tangible benefits in the Embassy network and State Agencies coordinating through Local Market Teams and co-locating in Ireland House models around the world. This is as true of new emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa as it is of more traditional markets like the UK, France, the US and Germany.

The recent announcement by my colleague, Minster of State Harris, that Ireland will adopt a banner brand for the promotion of its International Financial Services sector is also a step in the right direction.

A banner brand for the industry – both public and private sectors – will mean that when Ireland runs promotion events in Hong Kong, New York or London we will have one clear message that will be heard above the chatter. We might consider what other industries and markets would be equally well served by such initiatives.


I wish to thank you all again for taking the time this evening to come to Iveagh House.

I want you to take away one message: our Embassies are wide open for business. Our diplomats want to hear from you and want to help, working alongside colleagues in the State agencies

I hope I have conveyed to you the priority this Department attaches to its trade brief. And how we are retooling our Embassy network to ensure our people’s prosperity. We have established our goal to create a network of Embassies as business hubs for Irish companies.

At headquarters and across the governmental system, we must ensure a joined-up approach, with shared strategies upstream that see real collaboration in the field that enhance our collective effectiveness in trade, tourism and investment.

As we reflect on the signal events of this decade of commemorations we can take pride our achievements over the years.

We are reminded of the dream of those and earlier generations of nationalists to make Ireland a free and prosperous nation.

We have tackled and resolved the two great legacies of partition, namely the political and the economic.

We have come through one of the greatest economic challenges since independence.

Everybody in this room has played a huge part in rising to that challenge. I acknowledge that and I thank you for your efforts.

We are poised on the cusp of a new chapter in our economic history.

Thank you and I look forward to our discussions.


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Irish education promotion hub opens in Hong Kong

Here is a new blog from our Consul General in Hong Kong on a great initiative promoting Education in Ireland.



A Chairde, Friends,

Friday 20th November was an historic day with the opening of Hong Kong’s first dedicated office for the promotion of Ireland as an education destination.

Together with my colleague, Caitríona O’ Sullivan, I had the pleasure of joining the official opening with Anthony Cheng, Wilson Chin, Trista Tse & all the members of the team at the Irish International Education Centre (IIEC).

Anthony & the IIEC have been close collaborators of the Consulate since our opening in August 2014, & we have been very impressed with their efforts to build awareness of Ireland amongst Hong Kong teachers, parents & students. Our favourite initiative has to be their familiarisation visits to Ireland which to date have seen around 30 local school principals & vice-principals travel to Ireland over the past two years. We hosted a pre-visit briefing for the most recent group & they even met up with our former colleague, Fiona Nic Dhonnacha, during their visit to Dublin.

I believe that there is great scope to increase the numbers of young Hong Kong students studying in Ireland, whether in our Institutes of Technology or in our Universities. Our colleges provide a world class education & research, in a safe English-speaking environment & are keen to welcome students from Hong Kong, whatever their area of interest.

We are looking forward to hosting the Ireland stand at the HKTDC International Education Fair in the Convention Centre in January where we will be joined again by the IIEC & a number of Irish colleges. We are also working closely with Education Ireland to set out a detailed plan of action for the year ahead.

We would welcome your help in our efforts to promote Irish education in Hong Kong & Macau so if you have any ideas or advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.



CG Hong Kong

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What is the upcoming Global Irish Economic Forum About?

The Global Irish Economic Forum convenes for the fourth time in Dublin Castle between 19 and 21 November next. Considering that the first Forum met in September 2009, each meeting of the members of the Global Irish Network represents a snapshot of our national narrative, from crisis to recovery. With a fair economic wind now at our backs and within sight of the 2016 commemorations, fittingly this Forum looks to Ireland’s future and looks at some of the key questions facing us.

Where is Ireland’s place in the global economy? Ireland is a leader in attracting Foreign Direct Investment and sustaining cutting edge sectors like ICT, Pharma, Financial Services, Fintech, and Agri-business. However, the global economy remains unsettled, global trends offer both challenges and opportunities and the digital age will increasingly deliver disruptive creativity.

How do we drive indigenous growth? Entrepreneurs, new businesses and adaptation of existing ones are our future. Plenary discussions and breakout sessions explore how to promote them using our assets – our skills, creativity, capacity for innovation and design, our knowledge base in key sectors, and the resources of the digital age.

How can we best mobilise the global Irish as an asset? The Forum will look back briefly on its successful Global Irish Network initiatives like Connect Ireland, the Gathering and Irish Design 2015. The GIN is an important part of the global Irish but only a part of a vast matrix of connections. Alumni are a good example: how can we organise, utilise and sustain them in mutually beneficial relationships?

How do we relate to the global Irish? The island Irish and the global Irish experience the world from very different perspectives. Ireland is a geographic centre for the island Irish but by definition an imaginative or repository one for the Diaspora. How can we minimise inadvertently talking past each other? What are the best bridges between us? Culture? Exchanges? Irish Studies Programme? Emigrant Studies Programmes? How can we build on the success of the GIN and the GIEF in pooling ideas and sustaining relationships that span generations and the globe?

How do we achieve economic reliance and prosperity as we look to and plan for the next 100 years?   The men and women of 1916 risked and gave their lives for a vision. As we commemorate the centenary of the dramatic Declaration of a Republic at Easter 1916, how should we imagine Ireland a hundred years hence? That act of imagination is critical to the decisions we make here and now.

With the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, as host and a keynote speaker, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, and Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan, will each give keynote addresses to set the scene for the discussions and encourage actionable outcomes. Moderators, panellists, speakers and invitees alike are all in some way leaders in their field so we can expect this Forum, like its predecessors, to be stimulating and challenging.

You can find out more about the participants and the discussions here at the Global Irish website.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Meeting our Heads of CEE Missions, Warsaw

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has over the last year or so begun a cycle of regional meetings with our Embassies and these discussions are an important and valued innovation. Regional units at HQ are a crucial link between our officers in the field and the Department. They provide a focal point for the full range of Embassy activities within their region, including diplomatic, trade, cultural, educational and networking activities.

Since returning to HQ, I have attended regional meetings in Addis Abba and Shanghai, convened and chaired by Secretary General Niall Burgess. Last week I attended a regional meeting of our CEE HoM in Warsaw. The acronym refers to our Heads of Mission in Central and Eastern Europe and the meeting involved colleagues from Dublin and representatives of the Agencies, namely in this case Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bía. It was opportunity to review our operations in the region. Of particularly interest to me was our trading relationships, though of course the politics and diplomacy of the region are vital interests for Ireland where reporting and contact work by our Embassies are an invaluable input to the evolution of our positions and policies.

Some general impressions first off. There is a subtle but very definite demarcation running north south through Germany to Italy. As one moves east, perspectives and interests shift. Partly to do with history, partly to do with after-shocks of the breakup of the USSR, and partly to do with current events in what Russia describes as the “near abroad”, security issues feature understandably and necessarily. NATO and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy loom large on government agendas. Ireland as an island nation, and Western Europe generally, assume greater assurance that security threats are a thing of the past. It is useful to recall that for all the criticism of the European project, the peace and prosperity we enjoy is hard to conceive without the EU.

All this is brought home in Warsaw. The city was almost completely levelled by WWII as armies criss-crossed Poland. Its reconstruction is actually a marvel, combining new and reconstructed pre-war buildings strung along elegant boulevards. The National Museum, one of many in the city, is a modernist building of strong, square symmetries dating from 1938 (it survived the war but its collection was looted by the Nazis). By contrast, the national art collection within captures Poland’s grandeur, its rich, complex intellectual heritage and accomplishments, its sense being a European power. Objectively this is certainly true within the European Union: with a population of over 38 million and a trillion euro economy, Poland is one of the “big six” in the EU. The Polish economy avoided the deleterious effects of the financial crash and has, indeed, enjoyed GDP growth of 24% between 2008 and 2014. This is projected to continue into the medium term, albeit at lower rates.

A fascinating point about Poland was made by our Ambassador there, Gerard Keown. Because of the strong emigration to Ireland and the welcome here for Poles, not only is Ireland’s reputation high amongst relatives back in Poland but our immigrant Poles have been helping Irish companies leapfrog into the Polish market. Two-way trade between us was worth €2.2bn in 2014, and is growing by 15-20% annually. Irish exports increased 33% January-August this year, while Polish exports to Ireland grew by 24%. And connectivity is excellent: 55 flights a week to 12 Polish cities and 750,000 air journeys in 2014. A very welcome development was Bord Bía’s announcement at the regional meeting that they were placing an officer full time at the Embassy Warsaw.

The Iron Curtain has probably impacted on our knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe. It not only stopped travel there but communist rule created a deep divergence of experience. By the same token, knowledge of Ireland in Central and Eastern Europe is best where there has been emigration here. For one has to be cautious in assuming how much the outside world knows about Ireland and in particular how well we are branded as an innovative economy, at the cutting of sustainable agri-business and with a deep reservoir of skill and creativity. We, as Ireland Inc., have to work hard for attention outside the West and countries with strong Irish Diasporas. Ireland’s visibility is low overall globally and just because landmarks are turned green for St Patrick’s Day does not mean the local general public knows why. This matters generally but visibility and a clear brand identity is critical in supporting the work of the Agencies who promote the various specific aspects of our trade, tourism and investment.

Our Embassy in the Czech Republic is headed up by Ambassador Charles Sheehan. The Czech economy is now the fastest-growing in the EU, apart from Ireland, and it has the lowest unemployment rate, apart from Germany. Charles reports that our economic relations with the Czech Republic have developed very positively in recent years with total bilateral trade in goods and services of over €1.3bn in 2013. While the multinational sector dominated most export categories, there is strong interest in the Czech Republic from indigenous Irish companies. The Embassy supports the EI Office in Prague and EI is working closely with over 40 Irish companies which have offices in the Czech Republic, operating in real estate, recruitment, plastics, automotive industry supplies, electronics and leisure.  A trade mission to Poland and the Czech Republic was led last May by Minister of State Ged Nash.

Ambassador Anne-Marie Callan in Slovakia is a one-person mission and more than most she appreciated the opportunity of the regional meeting to liaise with colleagues and get a sense from HQ about plans for the future. She is working closely with EI and is focused on construction, start-ups, education links, high tech and RnD (where SFI is helpful). With an EU Presidency on its plate next year, Slovakia is particularly aware of the Brexit debate.

Pat Kelly is our Ambassador in Budapest. He reports that overall trade is relatively healthy at approximately €1.1 bn in trade and services. The Embassy works closely with the EI office (co-located with the Embassy) on maintaining and developing relations with Irish companies active in Hungary, and facilitating new contacts. The Irish Hungarian Business Circle is an important partner and Hungarian appreciation of Irish culture helps open doors.

Discussions between our Ambassadors in the field and the SG and colleague based at headquarters are vital conduits for the Department and for Missions to understand each other’s needs in promoting bilateral relations and trade. So it proved again in Warsaw. Aside from important housekeeping matters such as business planning, HR performance and risk management, discussions focused on how to improve Missions’ capacity to deliver on trade and related objectives such as improved visibility for Ireland in markets that are only one step away from our most important European ones, namely the UK, France, Germany, and Belgium.

A special word of thanks to Gerard Keown, our Ambassador in Warsaw and his team at the Embassy who organised an impeccably run programme and offered warm hospitality.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

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Trade Better: Inside the Export Trade Council

I attended my first meeting of the Export Trade Council on Tuesday last. There was a full turnout of all five Ministers and related Agencies involved in Ireland’s trade, tourism and investment activities. I was going to write “activities abroad” but in fact that would not quite capture the mandate of the Council or the kind of discussions it generates. The value of the ETC is the upstream coherence it brings at headquarters, a key nexus that facilitates coherence abroad for our agencies and Embassy network, and the involvement of the private sector.

The domestic platform featured in several discussions at the Council, all chaired of course by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan. The discussions were particularly enhanced by the strong representation of the private sector on the Council. One discussion, led by Minister Simon Harris, was on the implementation of the Irish Financial Services 2020 Strategy, an ambitious development of the sector’s international reach aiming to increase employment at home from the current 35,000 to 45,000.

There was a very useful presentation by private sector member Pat Beirne on the future of manufacturing in Ireland. This is a timely subject since manufacturing – a stable of the first industrial revolution – is now featuring again at the forefront of technology thanks to 3-D printing, the “internet of things”, data analytics and changes wrought by the digital revolution to supply chains. What is now being termed the industrial revolution 4.0 is likely to be disruptive with all the challenges and opportunities that presents. Minister Richard Bruton responded to this as well as to the previous Council discussion earlier this year on SME financing.

The Council’s session updating members on current strategies was chaired by Minister Seán Sherlock who has special responsibility for trade in our Department.  Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bía, Culture Ireland, and Science Foundation Ireland all reported positive progress, even in the current challenging global economic climate.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan updated the Council on the forthcoming international education strategy. When you consider that international education is Australia’s fourth largest export, you can see its potential contribution to the Irish economy. She also led on the discussion on bridging the skills gap, a strategically crucial element for the development of our economy.

In the context of the update on the buoyancy in the tourist sector Minister Paschal O’Donohoe opened the discussion on the current uncertainties in the global economy that bear heavily on us given our openness. Minister Simon Coveney noted that fair winds like competitiveness and exchange rates can change: their favourable orientation now gives us a window to drive our exports.  As he pointed out, our future economic resilience is enhanced by diversifying our market outlets, penetrating new markets and growing our market share as widely as possible.

That our export performance is fundamentally based on domestic coherence was summed up by a great initiative underway and beautifully summed up by EI’s Julie Sinnamon as a ‘Trade Mission to Ireland’. It is a joint project by the IDA and EI to explore and exploit opportunities for Irish indigenous companies in our thriving multinational corporation sector so that they can enter the global supply chain via Irish based FDI companies.

The Export Trade Council was established in 2011 to strengthen cooperation and coordination across all Government Departments and State agencies involved in the promotion of trade, tourism and inward investment (FDI). It specifically oversees the implementation of the Government Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, ‘Trading and Investment in a Smart Economy’, which was published in 2010 and reviewed last year. Given its critical role in ensuring coherence, at the conclusion of this week’s Council, Minister Flanagan invited all members to reflect on the Council’s work to date and to consider how the body can enhance what it does to ensure that Ireland can “trade and trade better.”

Eamonn McKee

DG, Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Irish Economy: A Quick Look at Some Key Figures

Thanks to my colleagues at the Department of Finance, here’s a quick health check of the Irish economy and our public finances.

Growth is expected to exceed 6% in 2015 –the highest in the OECD. Breaking this down shows nominal GDP at 6.9%, real GDP at 4% and real GNP at 3.9%. This puts Ireland at the top of the EU league in growth terms. While estimates are slightly lower for subsequent years – real GNP at 3.5% in 2016 for example – this testifies to a resilient growth glide through to 2020.

Our export growth has been strong this year with second quarter growth of 13.6% in year-on-year terms. Our trade surplus is at near historic highs. While emerging markets are weakening, our traditional partners in the UK, US and EU are performing well, helping to sustain our exports. The lower Euro is also a boost in non-EU markets.

Consumer sentiment in Ireland is at a nine year high, personal consumption is rising, and retail sales are very strong this year, up 9% to end-August year on year. We remain competitive with unit labour costs growth at 2%, well below euro-area average.

Looking at our national finances, it is fair to say that we are back on track after some very tough years. This has come at a price and is thanks to fiscal discipline and public fortitude; namely budget consolidation of €30bn or 17% of GDP over the seven years since 2008. Current figures back up the turnaround in the national accounts, a very significant achievement by any standard and an enhancement of our financial/investment reputation that will stand us in good stead. Ireland is a consistent over-achiever on the excessive deficits targets. An underlying general government deficit of 4.0% of GDP for 2014 was below the target ceiling of 5.1%. The Stability Programme Update forecasts a deficit for 2015 of 2.3% of GDP. Our debt-GDP ratio, which peaked in 2012 at 120%, should hit 100% this year and is on target to achieve 60% over the coming years.

Employment is growing steadily, hitting 3% is the second quarter this year, with unemployment dropping from 12.2% at the start of 2014 to 9.4%.

In short, Ireland continues to progress across four key areas –strong economic growth, increased domestic activity, stable bond yields and improving employment statistics.

There is no room for complacency though. The fair winds of our competitiveness and international exchange rates can change. China and emerging markets are weakening (average growth has declined for the past five years) and the IMF predicts that global growth this year will be the slowest since the crash at 3.1%. Yet the recovery in Ireland is increasingly broad-based, with growth in 12 of 14 sectors. Sustaining this and our robust investment and export performance will define not just our prosperity but our resilience. That topic was a central one in yesterday’s meeting of the Export Trade Council of which more anon.

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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