Tuesday, 10 February 2004

Questions (109, 110, 111, 112)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

184 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of new markets for Irish goods and services which have opened up in the past 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4001/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the growth in imports to this country in each of the past five years to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4003/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent of the growth of Irish exports in each of the past five years to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4004/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

187 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has satisfied herself that Irish exports remain sufficiently strong to ensure medium and long term stability in the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4007/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 184, 185, 186 and 187 together

Since the beginning of the 1990's Ireland has become a significant trading nation. On a per capita basis, Ireland ranks as one of the world's top three exporters when the oil economies are excluded. As a result, Ireland trades with virtually every country in the world.

The Government encourages Irish firms to develop export markets in accordance with their potential and their long-term development strategy. Enterprise Ireland is charged with assisting companies in this regard. The key mechanism, which it uses to assist companies in developing export markets, is the brokering of meetings with international buyers, either through inward buyer missions, outward trade missions or the arrangement of individual meeting programmes.

In 2003 it arranged over 8,000 meetings between Irish companies and international buyers. This assisted 120 companies to enter markets new to them, 80 of which exported for the first time. In addition, it assisted Irish companies to secure more than 600 new customers, distributors or partners and helped 136 companies to establish an overseas market presence. Companies in the indigenous exporting sector employ approximately 150,000 people.

Over the course of the year, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I led 14 separate trade promotion missions in 15 countries. Enterprise Ireland estimates that exports by indigenous companies amounted to approximately €11 billion in 2003, broadly in line with exports in 2002. In the context of the global economic environment and Ireland's overall export trend this was a strong performance, reflecting the dynamism and flexibility of the developing indigenous sector. The following table gives details of the import and export trends in merchandise goods for the past five years, including the period January to October 2003, the latest period for which figures have been released.

Year

Exports, €million

% change

Imports €million

% change

1998

57,321.8

+27.8

39,715

+20.8

1999

66,956.2

+16.8

44,327.1

+11.6

2000

83,888.9

+25.3

55,908.8

+26.1

2001

92,689.9

+10.5

57,384.2

+2.6

2002

93,587.2

+1

55,454.1

-3.4

Jan.-Oct. 2003

67,680

-14

38,880

-17

The overall trend for this period, and for the five years immediately preceding it, is extremely positive. Given the relatively small scale of the domestic economy, exports will continue to be an important driver of economic growth.

The decline in exports experienced in 2003 reflects the extremely difficult international economic environment. The decline in exports began in mid-2002, and appears to have reached its trough in the first half of 2003, with an improvement in the trend beginning to appear towards the end of the year.

The improving global economic environment is expected to assist in the recovery of exports in the course of 2004. The Government remains committed to supporting Irish companies developing markets overseas and to the improvement of the global trading environment through the successful conclusion of WTO negotiations.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of the past two years, I am confident that the strength and flexibility of the exporting businesses in Ireland will continue to contribute to economic growth in both the medium and the long term, and to this end the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and myself will be working with Enterprise Ireland on a range of trade promotion events over the course of the year.