I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to speak to them. As Mr. Kelly has outlined, I took over as chairman of the Asia trade forum in July last year, having done eight years of work in Asia when I was in industry. I have identified two key elements. The Government is doing a great deal of good work on the ground but at the same time there are significant opportunities to improve, given the current level of resources, if we manage and plan better. Having said that, when one looks at the prize which trade with Asia or with the ASEAN region could generate, the resources are not nearly what they might be. Bord Bia has one office in the region. Tourism Ireland has two offices, one in Australia, if one includes it in the region. My colleague and I have come from a round-table discussion with the Japanese ambassador at which the IDA presented. The IDA has two people in Japan, which is still our largest export market and where we have a strong presence. We all understand the difficult times of the past five years from which where we have come but we must look at how we allocate resources versus what can be achieved on the ground. As I said at the launch of our recent Asia trade forum programme for 2015, if one builds it they will come.
We come before the committee today to ask for further leadership from the Government in bringing us to where we need to be in the next 40 years. I was around when we passed a referendum to join the then European Economic Community in 1972 and look at what we have achieved in the past 40 years or more since then. We are looking to the future and what we need to do is put ourselves out 40 years from now and ask ourselves where we need to be in Asia in 40 years time because it is the next opportunity. If we are not in the same space in Asia in 40 years as we are within our traditional markets, we will not be the success we are at present.
The recommendation we make in our submission are reasonably clear. We are looking for leadership, commitment, a strategy and a cohesive plan between Government, the State agencies and business. As an SME representative, we know we have many large successful companies that have gone from Ireland to Asia and succeeded with the help of the State agencies. They are large enough to go in on the ground, assess and decide if there is a market and they have the resources to do so. As SMEs, the hardest part of what we do is trying to find a partner on the ground that will bring us to market. Enterprise Ireland is great at getting us introductions to the telcos, the utilities and the major players, but for businesses to be successful on the ground they need to find a small partner that is already succeeding. We believe the best way to do that is to follow the British model, which is to use chambers and to bolster the Irish chambers on the ground. We need a format and a structure so that we utilise the diaspora. We all know of the Irish diaspora but we are not accessing or using Irish people as well as we could be. It has been offered to us on regular occasions.
We have set out in our recommendation what we think needs to happen for Ireland Inc. to succeed. We must appoint a Minister of State for Asia. We have a great chance to use ASEAN as a case study in how to do business better in the Asian region. There is no reason that Ireland Inc. cannot put a strategy together for those countries, look at the resources, the target markets, the sectors we wish to target and the resources that will be needed to back it. We need to bring in businesses so that they are linked into it and we would know what we would do in target markets in different countries and drive it home. The Government's Food Harvest 2020 is one of the better strategies I have seen that has been delivered on and is ahead of target. When Government and business sit down together and look at what is possible, we can achieve more together.
We are in the enviable position of having access to Government and have great relationships with Government and yet - it is an Irish characteristic - we are not utilising those relationships as well as we could be. We could bring more structure to those relationships and use that access to Government to drive initiatives and to bring business forward for the whole of Ireland.
Let me revert to what happened this morning at the meeting with the Japanese am ambassador. Brand Ireland is not nearly as visible in Asia as we need it to be. There is a job of work to be done in penetrating that market. Let us look at the role of Tourism Ireland. I alluded to the figures that of the 12 million visitors from China last year, we got 20,000 to 25,000 visitors. Tourism Ireland, if we are honest, does not have Asia on the map. There is good reason for that in light of its current resources. The low-hanging fruit is in the core markets in which we are strong in getting growth, but now we need to be sowing the seeds for growth from the tourism in that region. More importantly if we are to increase awareness of Brand Ireland in the region, we need to have tourism as a core building stone.
There is a significant opportunity for growth in education. We all know we have many Asian students in our universities but the feedback we are getting on the way we are selling our education offering to Asia is that it is not structured or cohesive and the universities are competing against each other rather than offering their own specialty services. They are tripping up over each other - I am sorry to use that terminology - but the visits to Asia are not as co-ordinated as they should be to get the best offer. We have had overseas delegations to the offices of the Asia trade forum, who have come through London and the United Kingdom and they are advising us that we are not hitting the targets that we should be hitting when compared to how successful they are in the United Kingdom. We have a preponderance to look back on year-on-year growth and see the improvement rather than to look at the size of the market and what our share of it should be. The education sector needs to work on that.
Chairman, if I may, as this point is a little off the track, but we found out yesterday that the funding for UCC's east Asian diploma programme has been pulled. University College Cork had the only programme available in Ireland that was training Irish students in Asian culture and business in order to do business in Asia. We in the Asia trade forum had linked in with UCC and had placements with Irish companies for the 25 students on the programme over the next three months. Irish companies are contacting UCC asking the college to provide more students with these skills in the following years.
If we are to build on our capability to do business in Asia, we will need to have Irish students coming through similar programmes with the competence to go to Asia and promote our companies well. I would urge the committee to have a look at the UCC situation to see if it can be reversed at this early stage. It is only the first year of the programme and it has been successful. The Korean Government has provided funding for it, in terms of lecturers and so on, and the Japanese are very much involved in terms of the provision of Korean, Mandarin and Japanese language and cultural studies and business awareness studies. It is a key programme.
To return to the core argument, we need a strategy and greater leadership. Government has done a good job but we need a strategic plan for Ireland Inc. for Asia and ASEAN, which comprises ten countries. We need to what we are doing in each of those ten countries over the next five years worked through to a business level. Government introduces us to the markets. It opens the doors for us to be able to trade in those places. The State agencies then link us up with the major businesses. For Irish businesses to be able to do business in Asia we need to work with the Chambers and give them a chance to learn the mistakes that have already been made in trying to do business in Asia. In other words, we need to link in with the people who have already made the mistakes and use those volunteers to help us bring business forward.