It is a great pleasure to be here and I thank members for the opportunity to address the committee. As the Minister stated, a key priority of the Department of Foreign Affairs — there is none higher — is to promote Ireland and advance its economic interests overseas in co-operation with other Departments and State agencies. If the Chairman will allow, I will go beyond discussing trade promotion because the committee probably wants to deal with the broader economic issues.
The priority to which I refer is not new for the Department. It is one to which we have attached importance throughout our existence as a Department, particularly in the past 15 to 20 years. It has been fully reflected in our strategy statements and in business plans, at home and abroad, during that period. This objective is delivered through our network of diplomatic missions, the fundamental rationale of which is to advance Irish interests internationally. We see our embassies as the eyes, ears and voice of Ireland overseas.
The promoting Ireland abroad division, PIAD, is made up of three sections that were partly brought together in the past 12 months. We have a staff of 15. The main section of the division deals with bilateral economic relations. In any given week the work can vary across facilitating international agreements of an economic nature — double taxation and social security agreements — working on the economic aspects of high level inward and outward visits, working with our embassies and other Departments on issues relating to the reopening of export markets for Irish products, responding to requests for assistance from business and putting together training programmes for those of our staff going overseas. Since February of this year, the Minister has established a unit to monitor foreign press coverage of the Irish economy and to work with other Departments and agencies to provide material to enable our overseas offices to influence this coverage.
The third area of the division's work relates to promoting Irish culture. We encourage our diplomatic missions to use cultural events to promote a broader awareness of Ireland and to harness our reputation in this area to promote broader economic goals. We work closely with Culture Ireland and are represented on its board. We also provide information material on Ireland in a variety of languages.
The promoting Ireland abroad division, PIAD, is the focal point within the Department for work relating to trade and promotional work, but key aspects of the Department's overall work in that area in Ireland is also carried out in other divisions. For example, the Irish abroad unit in the consular division is responsible for Irish communities overseas and will organise the Farmleigh Global Irish Economic Forum in September. Our Anglo-Irish division deals with the all-island economy and will take the lead on the follow up to the strategic review of relations with the United States. The EU division is engaged in matters relating to EU relations with third countries. Much of the work of the EU division could be seen as central to Ireland's economic relations. The PIAD co-operates with other divisions on these various initiatives.
I will turn now to how we interact with other Departments and agencies in Ireland. As I said earlier, we are the ears, the voice and the eyes of Ireland overseas, but we do not have policy responsibility in most economic areas within Ireland. Primary responsibility for trade policy and trade promotion policy rests with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to whom Enterprise Ireland and the IDA report. Other Departments also have a key role in this area, such as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to whom Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara report, and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism which has responsibility for one of our largest service industries, tourism and for the promotion of Ireland as a destination for English language learning. While other Departments are also involved, these are the more important ones.
We work closely with these Departments and their agencies. For example, we are an active member of the Asia strategy group, which is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and which oversees implementation of the Government's Asia strategy. Our embassies in Asia report regularly to the group on the implementation of the strategy. We are represented on the market access group for food exports, which is chaired by an assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, at the group's request, our embassies have supplied detailed input into its work. My division of the Department of Foreign Affairs is also represented on the group on international tax issues chaired by the Department of Finance. This group has been considering issues relating to proposed changes in the US tax regime. The group set up to oversee the implementation of the recommendations contained in the strategic review of relations with the United States is chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and includes representatives of all relevant Departments and agencies. That group met for the first time today.
We involve the main promotional agencies in our annual training programmes for those going abroad. For example, we had two training sessions of two and a half days each in May at which we had representatives from the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia and Science Foundation Ireland. This ensures that when our personnel go abroad they understand the priorities of the various agencies. We also would encourage all ambassadors going to major markets to meet with personnel in the various agencies.
I would like to make one final point before moving on from the division in Ireland. The close relationship with the agencies is also demonstrated by the fact we have a person seconded from the IDA to work with us for a year and, previously, we had a person working with the Department for a two-year period. In turn, one of our people is seconded to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, at counsellor level.
I turn now to the economic work of our embassies. As the committee is aware, the Department maintains 75 overseas offices, 57 embassies, 11 consulates general and other offices and seven permanent missions to international organisations. While their specific contribution will differ, depending on market conditions and related factors, bilateral missions are keenly aware that they have a role to play in promoting trade and investment. Staff are expected to discharge this role in a dynamic manner. In other words, they should not wait for the phone to ring but should get out and promote Ireland.
Embassies promote an awareness of Ireland and its business potential, report on economic trends and developments, support Ireland's trade and investment objectives, act as a problem solver on regulatory issues, provide a network of contacts and assistance, and support other Departments and agencies and, as appropriate, individual companies. Markets differ and this affects how work is organised in each embassy. Trade with countries in the Single Market will clearly put different demands on embassies than trade with a country such as China, Saudi Arabia or Russia, where the state retains a strong role in the economy.
In more developed EU markets, such as France, the focus for embassies tends to be on promotional, networking, media and reporting activities. In other developed markets, such as in the United States or Japan, in addition to promotional work, the embassy will be closely involved in issues affecting wider economic interests. For example, our embassy in the United States, which closely monitored the tax proposals of the leading candidates during the Presidential election last year and hence was in a position to advise at a very early stage on the proposals of the Obama candidacy, is very actively engaged on the tax deferral issue and, at the request of the ambassador, is working closely with the IDA in this regard and an IDA person has been assigned to work in the embassy in Washington on the issue.
In new and emerging markets, promoting a general awareness of Ireland can be important, as can assistance in resolving problems and growing business. For example, we may think we are well known in China, but there are approximately 60 cities in China with a population over 5 million and in some of the larger provinces we do not even scratch the surface. People are not really aware of Ireland and we need to help them become aware of who we are if we are to promote a relationship there. Therefore, we do basic promotional work as well as detailed work on behalf of individual companies and agencies. The potential for developing economic relations is a key consideration when considering establishing a diplomatic presence overseas. The focus of the recently announced embassy in the UAE will be economic, as will the focus of the proposed consulate in Atlanta.
On the issue of co-operation in overseas markets, our embassies and consulates work closely and co-operatively with other Departments and agencies. This is expressed in a variety of ways. In a number of cases, embassies and agencies are co-located in the same building — the Ireland House concept — for example, in Madrid, Tokyo and New York. In some other cases, while occupying separate premises, staff are listed on the embassy diplomatic list. An example is the recently opened Enterprise Ireland office in Sao Paolo.
Ireland House is not always a viable option because of the need for different administrative and business centres. For example, in Italy the embassy is in Rome, but the Enterprise Ireland office is in Milan. In Germany, the embassy must be in Berlin, but the main economic area is along the Frankfurt Rhine corridor. Where Ireland House makes sense and assists agencies, we are open to that idea. We are also open to helping agencies if it assists them to be on the diplomatic list. However, this does not always assist them and in some cases agencies may feel it is better not to stress they are a Government agency. This would be a minus rather than a plus in more free markets.
In major markets where agencies are also present, ambassadors have been instructed to convene regular meetings to co-ordinate and report on promotional activities. People meet each other on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. However, to ensure there is a longer-term strategic view, we have asked that they meet twice a year in a more formal setting to compare calendars and to look at opportunities where they can work together. It can be a case of looking further down the line. For example, the cricket world cup will be held in India in 2010 so already our embassy in New Delhi will be liaising with IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland to see how this occasion can be used to promote Ireland. Events such as this must be planned for well in advance. It is similar to the rugby world cup when the Irish team training base was in Bordeaux and a series of events was organised around that venue. We try to co-ordinate those type of activities.
Ambassadors regularly host events for Irish promotional agencies. In some larger states, such as China, Poland or France, ambassadors have led agency visits to specific provinces to highlight the benefits of doing business with Ireland and to create a basic awareness of Ireland. Embassies are expected to be active and dynamic. I was looking for an example that would enable the committee to get a sense of what we do. I refer to a recent example from the past two weeks. Our embassy in Tokyo recently took an initiative with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and working with ComReg, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA to organise the first Japan-Ireland forum on ubiquitous innovation. For those who do not know what is meant by "ubiquitous innovation", it means the third wave of the IT revolution. Approximately 127 attended this event including 87 representatives drawn from 58 companies. Embassies, consulates and agencies work closely on the establishment and support of business networks. A good example of this would be the Green Room launched in 2007 in the embassy in Paris which brings together young Irish professionals in France. This started with 60 members and now has more than 350. For those members who might like to see what that type of activity looks like, it has a very good website which received financial support from our Irish abroad unit. The web address iswww.greenroom.fr. There are similar types of organisations in other cities such as the young Irish professionals in New York and something similar in London, which have been initiated or revived by a consulate or embassy.
Close co-operation takes place around ministerial visits to make the best use of the promotional opportunities presented by such visits. This typically involves the Department of Foreign Affairs working with the relevant foreign government, business and with Irish agencies to ensure the maximum economic benefits. This is most evident with regard to travel around St. Patrick's Day but it also happens at other times of the year, such as the Taoiseach's visit to Japan in January, the economic parts of which were co-ordinated by the Department and also his visit to Beijing last November. In a number of cases officials from other Departments are seconded to work in our overseas offices. The most obvious example of this is the permanent representation in Brussels. Other examples include our permanent representation in Geneva and embassies in London, Madrid, Berlin, Rome, Warsaw, Washington and Singapore.
The above is a broad outline of what the Department of Foreign Affairs does and, in particular, what work our embassies undertake. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our capacity in this regard and we would welcome any ideas from committee members.