After the Brexit Vote, the Export Trade Council Meets

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, convened a meeting of the Export Trade Council (ETC) on 20 July.  The Council comprises Ministers, their senior officials and heads of the State Agencies involved in Irish trade and investment, and representatives of the private sector.

As you’ll know from my blog of the previous meeting, the Council is a unique sounding board.  It was at that meeting that a clear warning was sounded about the pre-vote mood in England, that momentum was with the Leave side and that the Irish doing business there were braced for the worst.  Now that its happened, one thing is for sure; we can’t rely on status quo bias.  Things are going to change for Irish business.

The meeting of the Council was mature, thoughtful and focused on the challenges we face as Ireland and the EU adjust to the changes needed to protect Irish trading interests.  The more you look at those changes, the deeper and more complex the process ahead looks.

After Minister’s opening remarks, the Council heard an update on the current situation on the EU front.  The floor was open to the private sector members.  In response, the public officials briefed on changes afoot within our system to respond effectively to Brexit and the State Agencies in particular offered their assessment of the impact on their programmes and clients.  While there are some opportunities, every sector in our economy has to adapt in some way to proximate challenges like the decline in sterling and longer term ones that are shrouded in uncertainty, such as market access, UK household expenditure and the UK’s growth projections.

Overall, there was a clear sense that Brexit’s effects on Ireland are likely to be manifold, that we face complex and sensitive decisions to balance our trade and investment interests, our offensive and defensive trade needs, and our relationships with key international partners in the new world we face.  It was also recognised that the UK will remain a formidable player as it seeks to protect its interests in the unfolding negotiation process.  It was acknowledged that the relevance of previous ETC discussions on building economic resilience through market diversification was underscored dramatically by Brexit.

Minister Flanagan briefed on a number of significant developments regarding the work of the Council.  The first was that the ETC preparatory group of public officials will now meet as the Trade Coordination Group on a monthly basis.  This will enhance information sharing in a very dynamic environment and improve whole of government coordination in the trade space.  It will also assist in developing the Council’s work and input.  This group will also spearhead the formulation of the new trade strategy to replace the Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy, entitled “Trading Better”.  The next meeting of the Council, Minister Flanagan advised, will focus on Asia.

I would recommend you take a look at the Minister’s press release, copied below, that issued after the meeting of the Council.  It gives a good sense of the discussion and outcomes.

Eamonn

PRESS RELEASE: Minister Flanagan convenes Export Trade Council to discuss next steps following UK Referendum

Market Diversification Prioritised

Work to be accelerated on new trade, tourism & investment policy, “Trading Better”, 2017-2021

Next ETC will focus on Asia-Pacific region

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, today (Wednesday) convened a special meeting of the Export Trade Council, focussed on the steps needed to support and enhance Irish business overseas in the wake of the British referendum decision to leave the European Union.

Following the meeting which brought together the heads of six government departments, five state agencies as well as ten representatives of private sector exporters, Minister Flanagan stated:

“Today the ETC strongly affirmed that Ireland’s future is at the heart of the European Union. That is the key message that we must send out to all our business partners and prospective investors.

“We had a very productive discussion which focused on how Ireland responds to the current challenges and opportunities. Ireland has a number of key markets where we have a strong, established presence, such as the UK, the US, France and Germany – these and other EU markets present opportunities to deepen our market penetration.

“In previous discussions at the Council, we identified market diversification as key mitigating factors in regard to risks to our economy. That indeed was reaffirmed at our discussions today, with particular reference to Brexit. In line with the intensification of this government policy, I have recently created new commercial attaché posts in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Romania, to enhance market access for Irish companies as part of my Department’s new economic diplomacy strategy.

“In line with the programme for government, we are also diversifying and developing our market presence in emerging markets in Latin America and Asia. Africa presents new opportunities as was well illustrated by the very successful meeting of the Africa Ireland Business Forum recently.

“At the weekend I was in Ulaanbaatar at the Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) Summit. I also visited Beijing. Following my consultations with a number of Asian partner countries, today I proposed that the next meeting of the Export Trade Council will focus on the Asia-Pacific region. I plan to update members on the Government’s plan for a cross-sectoral strategy for the region in line with our Programme for Government commitments.

“Today, members were briefed on the formulation of a new successor policy to the Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy will be accelerated. “Trading Better” will set out a coherent medium term plan for 2017-2021 to enhance and improve how we support Irish exports and investment. We agreed to accelerate that work.

“I have tasked the Trade officials in my Department to establish a Trade Coordination Group involving all the Departments and Agencies represented on the ETC. The Group will meet monthly and its primary task will be to ensure an enhanced level of coordination and collaboration across all of the Departments and Agencies engaged in supporting Irish business overseas, under the aegis of the Council. Along with my Department’s mission network of Embassies, Consulates and Honorary Consuls, the economic State Agencies are in the front lines in winning business and investment for Ireland overseas.

The Minister concluded:

“Today’s discussions and the contributions of the members of the Council were substantive. They identified the challenges facing Irish business in the UK in the wake of the referendum.

“We agreed that the economic relationship within the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain will remain vitally important to us and our future economic prosperity.

“Clearly, the new trading arrangements that eventually emerge from the implementation of the British decision to leave the European Union will affect us. But they will not fundamentally alter the importance of the UK market to us, nor the importance of the Irish market to the UK.

“Our discussions also showed a renewed determination to come together as we work collectively to secure and better Ireland’s prospects for prosperity.

“Ireland has shown great discipline and agility in response to the 2008 crisis and our recovery stands us in good stead. We must now show a similar determination and agility again. The Export Trade Council will play an important role in how we coordinate our collective efforts to ensure that Ireland as a trading nation emerges stronger from the challenges before us. Under my chairmanship, I am determined to ensure that outcome.”

ENDS
Press Office
20 July 2016

Note for Editors:

The Export Trade Council (ETC), which is chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD. The ETC has met regularly since 2011, including for special consultations in advance of the UK referendum. It brings together senior Ministers with an economic focus, the heads of the State agencies involved in promoting trade, tourism, investment and education abroad with the support of the Embassy network, and members drawn from the private sector.

The current members of the Council include: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross TD.

The heads of the State agencies that work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy network in promoting trade, tourism, investment and education are also represented on the Council: Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

The private sector is also represented on the Council by IBEC and the Irish Exporters Association, as well as by a number of business people with a track record in the relevant sectors.

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Into the Mouth of the Dragon, Istanbul Airport 29 June

We knew about the horrors of the attack on Ataturk Airport thanks to the novelty, for me at any rate, of having wifi on the airplane. We expected to be diverted but apart from some hushed comments of the cabin crew, nothing was officially said by the captain as we made our approach to the airport. We landed on the skirt, behind a long line of aircraft flanked by buses. It had all the feel of an emergency plan well executed and the buses deposited us and droves of other arrivals at the terminal.  This had been the sixth terrorist attack in Turkey so far this year.

Inside the terminal, there were queues and crowds, groups sitting on the floor and the exhausted sleeping on the ground as travellers pushed passed them. Once in the departures area, the mood was unusual; subdued, not the usual bustle of one of the world’s busiest transit points (sixty one million travellers last year). On reflection, it had the sombre quiet of a church, the airport hallowed now, and probably only temporarily, by the knowledge that many had just died there. The footage of a gunman wounded and immolating himself graphically showed one death. One had to think of all the innocents killed, some forty one, each loss leaving a terrible rent in a family, a loving relationship turned into an intangible frozen memory.

Travellers are terribly vulnerable as they move from, with and to loved ones.  Weather, disorganisation, delays, mechanical failures, and strikes are now joined with sickening regularity by terrorist attacks.  (In this instance, just why the arrivals area of Ataturk Airport may have been attacked is examined in this New Yorker article here.)  Was it a sign of a new normal that, remarkably, our connecting flight to Dublin left only four hours behind schedule after such a devastating attack?

International terrorism is one of many dragons that are sowing global and domestic havoc, adding to that sense that we are in a great unravelling of social and political order.  Some say that it is the break-up of the post-WWII order.  Some argue that it is more accurately the break-up of the post-WWI order as Middle East borders dissolve and the order imposed by oligarchic Arab nationalism fails.  Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole has eloquently argued that Brexit is the result of the stirring of the dragon of English nationalism in one of the greatest miscalculations in British history. Others believe that we are witnessing the effects of the pervasive but all but invisible ideological triumph of neoliberalism.  Globalisation and its disruptions are cited as another culprit.

In medieval maps, “there be dragons” was often printed below a rendering of the mythical beast to indicate an unknown area into which the traveller should not venture.  We don’t have that luxury today.   The dragons are coming to us and we must understand why if we are to push them back and restore some order on our affairs.

In September, the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Science Foundation Ireland will co-host the annual meeting of the Small Advanced Economies Initiative (which we share with Denmark, Finland, Israel, Singapore, Switzerland and New Zealand). We discussed the agenda last April and decided that a plenary item was needed to capture the sense of things falling apart.

“The Great Unravelling” at our SAEI meeting promises to be a compelling discussion from the perspective of senior officials involved in foreign affairs, trade and innovation. We are unlikely to come up with answers or even more modestly how small countries can navigate this unknown and unstable terrain.  But this is a vital conversation if we are to identify the causes of, and the solutions for, current discontents.

 

Eamonn

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Echoes of Joyce, A Morning in Dalkey and Sandycove

Places generate their own atmosphere. Dalkey’s is particularly intense, signalled by a street sign that brazenly says Atmospheric Road. Its narrow winding streets are lined with probably the most varied, personable, and charming collection of dwellings in Dublin, hunkered together at the edge of the sea. The street is patterned like some maze around the village centre.   Even the most humble of cottages has been gentrified, with tiny gardens bursting with flowers. They hold their own with the mansions, manses and tony new builds. The crammed and crowded little restaurant, the Corner Note Cafe (www.thecornernotecafe.ie), echoed Dalkey’s jumbled charm as it served hearty breakfasts for the Sunday crowd.

Breakfast in Dalkey is as good a way as any to start a trip to the museum at the Joyce Tower, Sandycove (@JoyceTower and http://www.joycetower.ie).  It is free to the public and its attendants are a welcoming and informative bunch. A treasure trove of artefacts awaits: books, letters, and photographs of the great man and his circle are within inches of scrutiny. Joyce’s guitar is there with his cigar case, his last walking cane, even his hunting waistcoat made by his grandmother and passed on from his father.

Joyce’s death mask is startling; his blighted eyes look small and shrunken under tiny lids, his nose is strong with a deep dent from a lifetime of wearing glasses, his cheeks hollow.  But death couldn’t dent that chin, strong as an iron mandible. A strong chin was a fitting gift from nature because he led with it for most of his life, challenging the literary orthodoxies and social mores of his time.

However, the true prize is the tower itself. Its thick solid blocks of Wicklow granite were fitted together into a short stump strong enough to withstand a canon ball from a Napoleonic fleet. Its walls are so thick that it seems capable of standing against pretty much anything. The narrow spiral staircase looks like a granite digestive tract. The first landing opens to the famous room featured in the opening chapter of Ulysses where Stephen Dedalus spent an unsettled night.

The narrow and steep staircase continues, leading to the stairhead and round roof top. It is from this stairhead that Buck Mulligan emerges as the great novel begins. I have to say that if Buck Mulligan did indeed walk those perilous stairs delicately bearing a bowl of lather with mirror and razor crossed on top, he was an agile fellow, plump or not.

Being in that room and emerging from the stairhead feels like a significant act, a portal between the real and the fictional. It is as close to actually entering the narrative of Ulysses as one is likely to experience.

The Martello tower at Sandycove is but one of a series built around the Irish coast (except in the northeast, naturally) during the Napoleonic Wars and designed to warn of a French invasion. The gun mounted on top could turn 360 degrees which was probably an added advantage if the natives turned restless.

From the roof one can see men and women diving into the Forty Foot, another star location in Ulysses. It is a gray yet balmy day and indeed under leaden skies the sea in parts is snot green. But here we must part fact from fiction if we can. I, like many people, assumed that ‘forty foot’ referred to the depth of the inlet but my grandfather told me that in fact it referred to the British Army unit stationed at the tower, namely the Forty Foot and Light.

And Atmospheric Road?  Alas no reference to Dalkey’s charm but an inheritance from history when it served as the terminus for the Dalkey Atmospheric Railway in the mid-1800s.

Eamonn

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Ferns, Irish History Ground Zero

Larry Smith is a passionate man; about Ireland, about our history and about Ferns as the ground zero of Irish history. An erudite and loquacious OPW guide at Ferns castle, Co. Wexford, he has had an adventurous life as a Garda who has seen service with the UN in a range of conflict zones around the globe. He knows how history works and how people fare when conflict engulfs them. From the roof of Ferns castle a stunning vista of Wexford bocage beckons. Larry points to a conical hill, the infamous Vinegar Hill of 1798, and quotes Heaney’s Requiem for the Croppies, where the hill ‘blushed’ with the blood of the rebels and their families as British grapeshot slaughtered them.

But Larry has a bone to pick.  Not enough visitors come to Ferns. Yet it is the fulcrum of our history, the home and conspiratorial centre of the infamous Dermot MacMurrough who invited the Normans to our conquest. Where would history have taken us without this deed? This is a question to test the imagination. Had there not been a Norman conquest, we would hardly be commemorating the centenary of 1916 not least because small changes magnify through time and the coming of the Normans was to prove no small thing to Ireland at any number of levels.

The Normans altered Ireland in more ways than we like to concede. They brought villages, cottages, markets, manors, estates, revenue, proper castles and incorporated cities. They altered the pattern of regnal wars fought by petty Irish kings and produced great new dynasties that dominated Irish politics for hundreds of years, most notably the FitzGeralds.

Through allegiance to Henry II and King John, the Normans established the connection to the English crown.  John founded Dublin Castle initially as a treasury but ultimately as the irreducible foreign presence that would endure without interruption as the heart of the Pale and seat of British power until 1922.

So Ferns is the holy of holies of Irish history, the fundament of our conquest. We can only understand the significance of 1916 by spanning the time back to the 12th century when Dermot made his plans from his fortress there and acted as agent for the small band of Normans who landed at Bannow Bay and seized Wexford city. They were preparing the way for their Marcher Lord, Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow to arrive with the main force.

And amidst the carnage of Waterford city, Dermot would play father of the bride as he gave his daughter’s hand to the victorious Richard de Clare, Strongbow. Their march north through Wicklow, evading the waiting Irish to the west under the High King Rory O’Connor, would see them take Dublin, a prize the colonists held thereafter for eight hundred years.

When the rebels struck in 1916, their plan to take and hold Dublin was as much a psychological act of defiance.  And for the week that they did so, they achieved something unprecedented in our history of conquest and colonisation.

Dermot would pay a heavy price; his son was hostage to the High King whom Tiernan O’Rourke persuaded to kill after Strongbow and Dermot raided O’Rourke’s kingdom of Breifne.  Dermot would retire to Ferns in the winter of 1170, evidently a broken man, to sicken and die in May 1171.

So think about heading to Ferns for a day trip. If you live in Dublin, it is just over an hour south of the M50. The visitor’s centre is discrete and pleasant and Larry and his team of guides to the castle enthusiastic. The tower that is intact is charming and evocative and the view from the roof is magnificent. You can see why the Normans grabbed this lush and fertile land.  The whipped ice cream in the shop across the road is some of the best in Ireland. Wander down the road to the site of McMurragh’s burial and the ruins of the abbey which he had funded and where he died.

If you’re up for it, head back up the M11 and turn off at Arklow to drive up through Avoca, Glendalough, passing by Lough Tay and via Glencree into Dublin. You will not only be passing through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the east of Ireland but you also might just be tracing that first and fateful Norman march to Dublin.

Eamonn

Coda: Dermot’s fortress was made of wood and had been burned before he had died.  Strongbow and Aoife had a daughter, Isabel, who as a young girl of sixteen was married to probably the greatest knight in Christendom, William Marshall.  As the daughter of Strongbow, she was  an immensely rich heiress. Marshall was in his forties, a tall and impressive man of unequalled martial accomplishments and ties of loyalty to the crown.  Their marriage was apparently a happy one.  With her husband, Isabel returned to Ferns and stood on the knoll of her grandfather’s fortress.  There they built a castle of stone in the Norman manner.  It can only be seen as a act of reclamation by her, a statement of affirmation of her grandfather and his ambitions, and a defiant gesture to the local Gaelic chiefs displaced by the Normans.  Its remains today bear all the scars of subsequent Irish history but the restoration of the remaining tower has preserved its original Norman features and is one of the most evocative and intriguing ones of its kind.

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Economy Proving Irish Resilient

While this is a short account of how well the economy is doing according to the figures, we should remember that the economy and the figures it produces really comes down to people. Energy, talent, judgement, and emotional intelligence are key elements defining our economic agency. And for our diplomats abroad, we have a great story to tell about recovery, resilience and dynamism. What the figures show about us is that despite the many uncertainties in our near-abroad – sterling fluctuations, sluggish Eurozone, Brexit referendum – we are proving to be a resilient people.

Our GDP grew by 7.8% in 2015, according to preliminary estimates by the Central Statistics Office. This is the strongest year of annual GDP growth since 2000, making Ireland the fastest-growing economy in the EU last year. The European Commission forecasts the same again for this year. GDP per capita is back above its pre-crisis peak. GNP – often regarded as a better measure of economic activity in the Irish economy – is estimated to have grown by 5.7% last year.

The increase in economic activity we are now seeing is broadly-based. Our economic fundamentals are robust. Export growth in 2015 was the strongest since 2000 at 13.8% and exports continue to contribute positively to growth, boosted by competitiveness and fair winds from exchange rate depreciation.

Unlike the early part of our recovery from the 2008 crisis which was driven almost solely by trade, the domestic economy is now helping drive growth once again, with private consumption up by 3.5% last year. Consumer sentiment continues to rise. Investment growth is strong. As a result, the key measure of success is unemployment which in May was down to 7.8%, from a peak of 15.1% in 2012. Indeed, employment has increased in each of the last thirteen quarters.

Ireland has maintained a phased and steady adjustment path putting our public finances on a sustainable footing. Strong economic growth has underpinned robust tax revenue growth during 2015, up approx. 10.5% on 2014. The General Government Deficit has been reduced from over 32% of GDP in 2010 to an estimated 1.5% of GDP in 2015, and is expected to move even lower this year.

Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is also on a firm downward trajectory. Having peaked at 120% of GDP in 2012, it is calculated to have fallen to below 97% in 2015.  That is quite a turnaround.  Our debt is now rated as investment grade by all major ratings agencies. It is not surprising then that Ireland has successfully made a full return to the bond markets, and  February and April saw 10-year bonds auctioned at a new record low yield of under 1%.

Eamonn

 

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

 

 

 

 

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Brexit Referendum: The ETC Meets to Discuss

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, convened a meeting of the Export Trade Council yesterday at Iveagh House. The Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton attended, with regrets from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Minister for the Marine and Transport, Tourism and Sport. The focus of Ministers, senior officials, private sector representative organisation and other private sector members for this meeting was on the Brexit referendum.

In his remarks, Minister Flanagan noted the itinerary of visits recently undertaken and underway, including Minister of State Paul Kehoe to Birmingham, his own to Liverpool and Manchester, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor’s visit to Leeds the day before, Minister Paschal Donohoe travel to Edinburgh and Newcastle and Ministers of State Joe McHugh and Dara Murphy in the London area . The Taoiseach will also travel to Britain and to Northern Ireland in the coming week.

He acknowledged the commitment and energy of colleagues serving in the Embassy London, the Consulate in Edinburgh and our offices in Northern Ireland to efforts to communicate the Irish perspective in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, along with that of the Irish state agencies and various business associations. He then invited the members of the Council to offer their views and advice.

I should say from the outset that my own personal view was that at the end of the day, the British voter would opt to stay in the EU, would choose familiarity over uncertainty, would found their judgement on rational arguments rather than whimsy or illusion. After all, the British successfully fended off great European powers like Spain, France and Germany, all the while building one of the largest global imperial powers, through a doughty realism, mercantilism, and industrialisation. These successes were in turn founded on empiricism, the philosophy of experience not theory.

So I was surprised to listen to the contributions around the table. They were very sobering. The news from members who had been in Britain lately was that momentum currently lies with the Leave campaign although two crucial weeks remain, traditionally the period in which undecided voters make up their minds. This impression converges with data from recent opinion polls which at best puts both sides neck and neck or gives the edge to the Brexiteers, though of course opinion polls are to be treated with some skepticism.

Export Trade Council members on the ground in the UK are finding that their arguments, convincing on any number of grounds, were pushed back in favour of counterpoints that were not well founded – counterpoints that suggested those in favour of leaving did not believe that there would be consequences for sterling or trade were Britain to leave. Or that immigration would somehow be “solved” by leaving. Or that British influence in the world would be projected not diminished by leaving the EU.

The inputs from members of the Council were valuable and will help inform the Government’s efforts in this last crucial phase of the campaign to declare and convey our clear interests in Britain staying within the community of nations that has brought such peace, prosperity and progress to its members, even if its processes are complex and frustrating at times.

Aside from the very real impact on trade, the new and historic comity between Ireland and Britain, not to mention our mutual achievements in the Northern Ireland peace process are jeopardised by what may flow from a Brexit. The impact of the EU itself would be profound and Ireland would face a whole new set of challenges in a post-Brexit EU.

The intervention of wise counsels will help as will a sober cost-benefit assessment.   Still, a Leave result is possible. We will not know until the vote is counted.  Ireland therefore will have a clear plan in place to deal with the implications of a UK vote to Leave should it happen.  A framework has been developed on a whole of government basis to identify contingencies that may arise in the days, weeks and months that follow.

As the meeting of the Council concluded, the Minister drew attention to the trade related aspects of the Programme for Government. Work will be taken forward on this expeditiously. For if the Brexit debate reminds us of anything, it is that the welfare and prosperity of our people depends on how we trade: the need to deepen our penetration of traditional markets, to explore potential in new markets and to do everything we can to build our economic resilience through trading better.

 

Eamonn McKee

DG Trade Division

 

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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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