Overseas Trade: Statements

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to update the Seanad on the trade promotion work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As the time available is short, if there are questions that are not reached, I can come back to them at a later stage if Senators require answers.

The promotion of Ireland's economic and trading interests overseas has always been a key focus of my Department, in co-operation with other relevant Departments and State agencies. Embassies can, by virtue of their status in international relations, gain access to the highest levels of government, the media and business in host countries, thus providing a platform to promote Ireland and Irish companies. Ireland's relatively modest network of embassies and consulates continues to work to restore Ireland's international reputation, which has been affected by the economic and financial crisis, and to support the export-led growth which is crucial to our recovery.

Following a Government decision, certain trade promotion functions were transferred from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 1 June 2011. This transfer has given my Department an enhanced role in trade promotion, which should in turn provide a renewed emphasis for this work and help facilitate a stronger relationship with all Departments and State agencies responsible for supporting the growth of Irish exports.

Export-led growth is fundamental to our plans for economic recovery and the decision by Government to give my Department this enhanced role in trade promotion recognises the importance of the contribution of the Department and its embassy network in delivering the Government's trade strategy. Local market teams chaired by our ambassadors and including representatives of the relevant State agencies are working hard in all of our priority markets overseas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is responsible for managing the new Export Trade Council. In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, the first meeting of the Export Trade Council chaired by the Tánaiste took place on Thursday, 29 September 2011. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and I, together with representatives of other relevant Departments and the CEOs of the appropriate agencies, all participated in the meeting. In addition, IBEC and the Irish Exporters Association also participated, as did representatives of private sector companies with a track record in exporting.

The Export Trade Council subsumes the previous Foreign Trade Council and will strengthen co-operation and co-ordination across all key Departments and State agencies involved in promotion and development of trade and exports, as well as overseeing the progressive implementation of the recommendations set out in the Government's trade strategy and action plan, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy, which was published in October 2010. As Senators will be aware, the strategy seeks to build on our strengths in existing markets and develop exports and tourism in emerging economies.

Management of the Export Trade Council will give my Department a key role in implementing aspects of the strategy and will mean a closer relationship with Enterprise Ireland, particularly with regard to trade missions led by the Tánaiste or me. The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation retains lead responsibility for trade policy, which includes representing Ireland's trade interests in the context of the EU common commercial policy and at the World Trade Organization.

At its inaugural meeting on 29 September 2011, the council reviewed our recent performance in trade, tourism and investment. Based on the most recent Central Statistics Office and agency figures, all of the trends were positive. The council considered a progress report on implementation of the action plan for the trade, tourism and investment strategy to maximise the opportunities, as well as to deal with the challenges and constraints faced by Irish companies trying to grow their businesses abroad. The council also considered progress reports from the local trade, tourism and investment teams, comprising representatives of the locally based State agencies and chaired by the ambassador or head of mission, to which I have referred. These teams are established in all 27 priority markets identified in the trade strategy.

A number of key issues were identified at the meeting, which the Tánaiste, as chair of the council will pursue through the framework of the council. One of the items discussed at the first meeting of the council was progress to date in realigning our visa regime with our economic priorities, which is one of the commitments in the action plan for Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy. In response, the Department of Justice and Equality set up an interdepartmental mechanism to look at ways of realigning our visa regime to support the Government's integrated strategy for the promotion of overseas trade, tourism and investment. The visa waiver programme announced at the end of June is the first tangible outcome of the new mechanism set up under the strategy and represents the kind of joined-up action required of the Government if we are to meet the challenge of export-led recovery.

Under the programme, tourists or business people who have lawfully entered the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a valid UK visa will be able to travel on to Ireland without the requirement to obtain an Irish visa. They will be allowed to stay in Ireland for up to three months or until their UK visa runs out, whichever is the shorter. Nationals of 16 countries in all are included in the programme, including India, Kazakhstan, Peoples Republic of China, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine. This is an excellent example of a joined-up Government response to what is widely accepted as a genuine constraint to the growth of Irish tourism in new and emerging markets such as China, India and the Gulf.

The Department of Justice and Equality will shortly bring to the Cabinet further developments to the visa regime for entrepreneurs and investors who wish to do business in Ireland. Whereas it is expected that the Council will convene up to three times annually, the terms of reference of the council allow for the establishment of working groups to examine specific topics between its plenary meetings if necessary. It is intended to hold the second meeting of the council early in 2012. I emphasise that the Government is committed to doing all in its power to support an export-led recovery by ensuring the most effective and efficient use of all of the available resources, including our embassy network, in order that our trade, tourism and investment sectors are able to maximise opportunities in our existing and key high growth potential markets. The Government believes the Export Trade Council will play an important role in achieving this objective.

I know that the Members of this House who contributed to last year's report on Ireland's foreign trade, published by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, were very much in favour——

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Members of this House who contributed to the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs last year were very much in favour of a greater role for our embassy network in trade promotion as well as the setting up of a mechanism such as the Export Trade Council with the participation of the private sector.

My Department now also has an enhanced role in supporting and leading Enterprise Ireland's programme of trade missions to develop and expand Ireland's exports to existing and new markets abroad. The destination of these trade missions is selected on the basis of specific priority international markets being targeted by Enterprise Ireland client companies, where the involvement of a Minister leading the trade mission will add substantially to the efforts of Irish companies to establish and develop long-term business and exports in those markets.

Currently, Enterprise Ireland is in the process of finalising proposals for trade missions in the first half of 2012. These proposals will then be discussed between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and decisions taken on the Ministers to lead each approved mission.

In addition to Minister-led trade missions, Enterprise Ireland will undertake a complete schedule of other sector-specific events and market visits for which ministerial involvement is not considered necessary. Trade missions provide an opportunity for Enterprise Ireland client companies to develop links in a market, to win export sales, to engage in international partnerships and joint ventures and establish an in-market presence. A focus on exporting underpins all missions, ranging from export opportunities identified in the mission market, market opportunities for specific firms or sectors and future growth opportunities. In future, the potential of trade missions will be maximised by integrating trade, tourism and investment promotion activities, in line with the Government's strong commitment to export-led growth and the development of new markets.

I assure the House that along with the Tánaiste, I have been very active in promoting trading opportunities through specific missions proposed by Enterprise Ireland and in the course of other working visits abroad since the transfer of certain trade promotion functions to the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade. On 13 October, I attended an Enterprise Ireland construction sector networking event and dinner in the Irish Embassy in London, which was attended by more than 52 companies. The event demonstrated the importance of Ireland as a source of high quality engineering and construction solutions and allowed leading construction figures from Enterprise Ireland client companies to engage with similar figures from the UK. The event provided an opportunity to raise the profile of Enterprise Ireland client companies that already provide market-leading construction solutions with key potential partners, while introducing senior level executives from UK organisations to Enterprise Ireland.

On 13 and 14 October the Tánaiste had a range of meetings in Japan and Korea focused on economic and trade issues. He attended the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum, APIBF, in Seoul. From 15 to 20 October I led a very successful Enterprise Ireland multi-sectoral trade mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to Qatar, on which 45 companies travelled. The main objectives of the visits were to help raise the profile of Ireland with established key contacts and to highlight the developing political, economic and commercial links between Ireland and Saudi Arabia and between Ireland and Qatar. The visits also provided a forum for companies active in the Saudi Arabia and Qatar markets to develop their relationships with customers and partners, while facilitating new business contacts for Irish suppliers in key strategic sectors such as construction, ICT and health care and to promote the emerging sectors of aviation, e-learning, food engineering and oil and gas where Irish companies have a strong reputation.

Over the course of the trade mission a number of Irish companies announced significant new contracts and business alliances across a range of business sectors. I am confident that the mission provided important support to the ongoing efforts of Irish companies as they continue to win new business and increase their export footprint in these rapidly growing markets and right across the Gulf region.

Last week I led a trade mission to South Africa. The mission included 27 Irish companies and visited Johannesburg and Cape Town and explored opportunities across a wide business spectrum. While the focus of the trade mission was on the telecommunications, financial services and e-learning sectors, participants from a wide range of industrial and consumer product sectors were also represented, including education, wastewater management, traffic management systems, plastics, publishing and pharmaceutical products.

The visit was an opportunity to raise Ireland's profile as a key trading partner and investment destination for South Africa, to emphasise the message that Ireland is open for business and to reinforce Ireland's commitment to working with South Africa at Government and business levels, through the activities of the embassy, and the State agencies. During the mission I availed of the opportunity to raise the awareness of Ireland as a source of world class products, services and technologies, to support efforts of the participating companies and enhance their relationship with local partners and customers. In the course of the trade mission Irish companies announced a number of significant contracts and strategic alliances with a value of more than €15 million across a range of business sectors.

We see South Africa as a strategically important hub for the region, and the ideal entry point for business across southern Africa. In this regard I was pleased to announce the opening of a new Enterprise Ireland office in Johannesburg. I also attended the launch of chapters of the new Ireland-South Africa Business Network in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It is hoped those networks will be expanded into other areas of southern Africa. The networks are supported by the embassy in South Africa.

Trade missions are an important part of our overall strategy of trade diversification. While the UK, USA and our eurozone partners continue to be key markets for Ireland given our strong knowledge and understanding of these markets, embedded relationships that include historical and cultural links, the nature of our foreign direct investment, FDI, base, and geographic proximity in the case of the UK, the Government is fully committed to developing and expanding engagement with key high potential markets, such as the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — I add South Africa to the list, where we are already increasing our trade footprint. In the four years between 2006 and 2010 our merchandise exports to this group of markets have increased by 69% and our services exports by an even more impressive 130%. The Tánaiste and I will continue to focus on emerging markets in the period ahead.

In that regard I mention another area for which my Department is now responsible, namely, for the organisation and management of our joint economic commissions, JECs. Currently, Ireland has JECs with a small number of countries — Russia, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and China — which provide a basis for ongoing, detailed and focused interactions with those countries. Our existing JEC with Libya, which met last year, may also be reactivated in due course. JECs are formal bilateral intergovernmental bodies dealing with trade development in all its aspects, be it mercantile or services. They provide a forum for discussing issues that relate to bilateral trade development and serve to further the development of economic, business, scientific and technological co-operation. All of our JEC partners are key emerging markets for Ireland where government to government contact is important for bilateral trade and economic relations. As Irish companies turn to emerging markets as well as our more established markets for new opportunities, our JECs have an important contribution to make in supporting Irish companies which are either trying to enter or grow their business in these markets. Again, the strategy includes a commitment to maximise the opportunities presented by the existing JECs.

JECs are not appropriate to all markets but where they exist they offer significant opportunities to raise new issues for discussion; raise again issues which are already under discussion between the two countries and seek a response within the context of the JEC; increase awareness of Ireland and the high quality products and services it has to offer; present Ireland in a positive light and highlight our key strengths. In that context last week during his visit to Russia, the Tánaiste led the Irish delegation, comprising senior representatives of a number of Departments and State agencies, at the eighth meeting of our joint economic commission with Russia, during which the opportunity was availed of to highlight Ireland's expertise in areas such as transport, in particular direct air services between Ireland and Russia; leasing of Irish registered aircraft to Russian airlines and aerospace facilities which Irish companies can offer Russian companies; energy and energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy; co-operation in the areas of innovation, telecommunications and information technologies, high-technology and nanotechnology and e-governance; third level education and English language training and agrifood and related industries.

The meeting agreed to establish working groups in each of the sectors to provide a follow-up mechanism which will involve a new level of engagement between relevant Departments and State agencies with their Russian counterparts. It was clear from last week's meeting that there is good potential to increase exports from Ireland to Russia in these sectors, namely, education, agriculture, transport, energy, and information technology. By taking advantage of existing opportunities and playing to our strengths we can deliver the export-led growth needed to bring about recovery in Ireland's economy.

I wish to brief the House on another key area of my Department's work, which was already touched on in terms of the reference to last week's visit to South Africa. We have recognised, as has Irish business, that significant market potential is developing on the African continent, albeit in the longer term. In September this year, the Tánaiste and I launched the new Africa strategy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which acknowledges the many positive changes in Africa in the past decade. It seeks to update our relationship with African countries to move beyond aid to include stronger political ties and the development of mutually beneficial trade. The Government acknowledges that, although it remains essential, the needs of Africa cannot be met by aid alone and that business and the private sector must also play a role.

The Africa strategy was launched at the first ever Africa-Ireland Economic Forum which was attended by 20 African countries and 140 Irish businesses. This event was arranged in partnership with the UCD Michael Smurfit Business Graduate School. There was strong recognition by all present of the importance of the relationships established across Africa through our engagement in development co-operation; of the need to maintain that development co-operation, focused on reducing poverty and building inclusive economic growth; and of the need now to build on those relationships and adopt a proactive and coherent approach to Ireland's overall relations with the African continent, including trade relationships.

I have participated in several events related to increasing trade with Africa. These include the launch of the study by Value Added Africa on trade with six of our long-term development partners. I also opened the Ghana Ireland Investors Forum in Dublin in October and the IIEA development studies series earlier this month when a vice president of the African Development Bank spoke of the issue of increased trade and investment in Africa.

Africa is now in a position where it can start to drive its own development. Huge levels of investment in Africa chase scarce natural resources as well as recognising that Africa, with its growing middle class approaching 300 million people, is also a market for many businesses.

Within Africa, the major challenge will be how to maximise the potential for economic growth which this foreign direct investment will bring. The challenge will continue to be how to bring about a better life for citizens, including the eradication of poverty.

Following last week's trade mission to South Africa I took the opportunity to meet our ambassadors in the region to discuss opportunities to improve trade. Enterprise Ireland participated in these consultations. Follow-up trade initiatives will involve activities in Ireland and at embassy level. In Ireland, my Department will build on the relationship with the UCD Michael Smurfit Business School and identify opportunities for working breakfast meetings between the Irish business sector and key speakers on trade and investment in Africa. This will include a central role for the resident African ambassadors in Dublin. Activities at embassy level will be agreed by the ambassador and detailed in the annual embassy business plan.

I take this opportunity to brief the House on last month's highly successful Global Irish Economic Forum which was managed by my Department, and which clearly demonstrated that the diaspora is also a substantial asset in our efforts to increase our exports and to enhance Ireland's standing abroad. Some 270 key decision makers with Irish connections gathered in Dublin Castle. The forum, as the Taoiseach noted in his letter of invitation, provided an opportunity "for the members of the Government to meet directly with many of the most influential members of our diaspora and to discuss our priorities for economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of Ireland's reputation abroad."

The response to the Taoiseach's invitation was overwhelmingly positive. These 270 members of the global Irish network travelled from around the world at their own expense to contribute to the discussion of these key priorities and how best to achieve them. The participation of such world-renowned figures as President Clinton and Bono and the constructive and encouraging messages which they communicated were well publicised at home and internationally.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

I will try not to be too much longer. I was talking about the Global Irish Economic Forum.

Overall, the forum was a very considerable success in terms of the high level of engagement and its substantive outcomes, and it clearly demonstrated the huge level of support and goodwill that Ireland can call upon from among the very highest levels of the international business and cultural communities.

We intend to publish a full report on the forum shortly, but among those key themes to emerge were ideas such as a world actors forum to be held in Ireland; Mr. Gabriel Byrne was at the forum; a more business-friendly visa system, which I have addressed; a new network of networks; extending the cultural ambassador model to areas such as sport; specific proposals relating to foreign direct investment, the green economy and innovation; and offers ofsupport from the Global Irish Network members for mentoring and other assistance to Irish exporters.

In addition to the formal outcomes, a range of initiatives were also announced during the forum. The announcement by former US President, Mr. Bill Clinton, of his intention to convene a tightly focused meeting in the US with very senior US business executives is very welcome. Likewise, in response to an invitation from the Tánaiste, a significant number of participants also signed up to be Advocates for Ireland and to undertake tasks such as assisting Irish companies abroad and investing in post-forum projects. That means financially investing in post-forum projects. All participants, and the Government, were in agreement that the event itself was extremely successful and well run, but that its ultimate success will be judged on the implementation of its outcomes.

The Government is deeply conscious of the need to have a robust and inclusive follow-up process, which fully involves the diaspora in the active implementation of initiatives. To this end, the new advisory and implementation group will be co-chaired by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and will include representatives from the Global Irish Network from each of the main geographic areas.

I thank all of the participants in today's debate. Because there will not be much time for questions, I reiterate that I will be happy to respond to questions which are not reached on the floor of the House.

Following statements from spokespeople we will have questions from Senators, who will have one minute each. We will than have approximately ten minutes when the Minister of State will reply to questions and points raised.

With the agreement of the House, I will share two minutes of my time with Senator Jim Walsh.

I thank the Minister of State. It is clear from her speech the tremendous work she is doing. I know she is an ideological politician with tremendous integrity and for that reason I have total faith in her.

I will focus on the economic situation in Ireland, Europe and the world. Last Thursday, Mr. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, presented his report on the current EU economic outlook and said Europe is headed for hard times and recession. He said forecasts for next year have weakened considerably since the spring and economic growth in the eurozone is expected to be an anaemic average of 0.5%, down from 1.8% which was the expectation earlier this year. The Commissioner called this a final wake-up call.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, stated in its latest employment outlook that recovery was stalling and that this was not good news for unemployment and employment prospects. The Secretary General of the OECD said that of all the facets of the crisis, from sovereign debt to banking, high unemployment was the elephant in the room. I am sure that all here today would agree with that. Every day we hear about the sovereign debt and the banks, but unemployment does not hit the radar as seriously as it should. Unemployment is the human face of the crisis and the most visible manifestation of the challenge we face to restore sustained growth. The outlook puts the spotlight on two particularly worrying aspects of the current situation: the serious threat of unemployment becoming entrenched and the disproportionate impact of the crisis on youth unemployment. Tackling persistent unemployment, improving job opportunities and ensuring adequate social safety nets should be at the top of the political agenda.

Many of us here have had transition year students working with us and learning about what goes on here over the past couple of weeks. These students are full of enthusiasm and are on the cusp of participating in the economy and our political system, but I am seriously concerned about their job prospects. It is vital that we ensure that the younger generation will be able to get jobs in Ireland. As Members are all aware, the rate of emigration has soared by 45% this year, with an astonishing 40,000 people leaving the country. Simply, there are too few jobs for young people leaving school or graduating from university. In a recent magazine report, Professor Brendan Walsh, speaking particularly about men without work, said that the rise in the unemployment rate reveals a grim picture of the impact of the recession. The overall unemployment rate has risen from 4.4% at the beginning of 2007 to 14.6% today. Male unemployment is now 17.3%, while unemployment among young men aged 20 to 24 is 32.23%. There is no doubt that unemployment causes serious mental stress for individuals and families. It behoves all of us in the Oireachtas, and the Minister of State and her colleagues in government in particular, to make serious decisions on this. I know the Minister of State is valiantly giving a 100% effort in this regard. We want the government to make the serious decisions. We are on a serious austerity programme, but we also need a plan for growth. We are the fair haired boys and girls in Europe because of our austerity programme, but we also need a programme for growth.

There is not much Ireland as a small economy can do to improve the EU or OECD economic outlook. It simply means that the Government and firms must act even more smartly to identify and provide the products and services customers want. We have not made much of an impact even in static markets or in exploiting markets that are still growing, such as those of India and China. This has been highlighted by the body that nominated me to the Seanad, the Irish Exporters Association. One of the benefits of being a small economy is that even in the face of a static international economy, it only takes a small extra slice of that market to boost our economy. We can and must influence start-ups and expansion of Irish SME enterprises in the midst of a recession.

I speak from first hand experience, as Lir Chocolates was started in the middle of a recession in the 1980s. Connie Doody and myself and our staff worked passionately to develop the company. In Ireland in the 1980s the national average unemployment was 17% and in many pockets and areas unemployment reached 40%. However, we put our hearts and minds together and developed a company. We started Lir Chocolates in the middle of a recession and there is no reason a similar venture cannot happen again if SMEs get the proper support. Today, Lir Chocolates employs 250 people in Navan and this can be emulated.

I compliment the Government on its support to the banks, but making money available for SMEs is still critical. It is up to family and friends now to help people as the banks are not forthcoming with funds. The revised code for banks dealing with SMEs published by the Central Bank is an improvement and it will put the screws on the banks and ensure they are more careful about personal guarantees.

I thank Senator White for sharing her time. I welcome the Minister of State and welcome her statement to the House. We must realise that we live in one of the most open economies in the world. Our exports are in excess of 100% of our GDP, whereas the comparative figure for Europe is 40%. This shows our dependency on the export market. Therefore, the recent slowdown trend, particularly in the merchandise manufacturing sector, is very worrying. If it continued, it could derail our economic prospects which are predicated on export growth. While we have seen a huge and welcome increase of 15% in exports in the agri-food sector this year, we must be aware that our important pharmaceutical-chemical sector is slowing down and our computer hardware exports are falling.

All of this highlights the need to concentrate on other markets and the Minister of State has addressed this to some extent. We should concentrate in particular on the BRIC countries, although she did not mention Brazil or South America in her statement. She did not mention Mexico or Central America either, yet these are markets we need to consider. We should also look at Indonesia. We need to broaden our horizons if we are to tackle the problem. The IMF has said that growth in emerging economies will be approximately 6%. Some 80% of our exports go to the US and Europe, but the IMF predicts only a 2% growth in those markets. It is essential that we look to other markets.

This brings me to some questions for the Minister of State. I like the idea of trade councils and of involving our embassies, but why, therefore, are we closing our embassy in Iran? We exported products worth €82 million to Iran in 2010, so closing the embassy there defies logic. We have embassies in many places where we have nothing like the magnitude of that trade. The Minister of State spoke about Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Three weeks ago, I attended the world economic forum at the Dead Sea, but there was no representation from Ireland at it, which was extraordinary. However, thousands of delegates from Africa, Europe and the Middle East attended. There were delegates from many Arab countries there. While I welcome the concentration on Qatar and Saudi Arabia, there is significant opportunity within the Arab world. Given our disposition to the Palestinian cause, we might have favoured status there. I urge the Minister of State to look at that.

I believe the British visa proposal is a good initiative. Will the Minister of State confirm there is a reciprocal arrangement in place so that people coming to Ireland who obtain Irish visas will have the same facility in going to Britain? My final question has to do with the capital programme. Why is it indicated in the capital programme that the need to address fiscal targets will require some retrenchment of funding for research and development? Research and development are the cornerstone for growth. We are cutting funds for Science Foundation Ireland by €5 million, despite the fact that its research is the cornerstone for future growth. If we have learned anything, we should have learned that we must concentrate our scarce resources on areas that will lead to growth and lead us out of the current crisis.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House, congratulate and compliment her on the comprehensive report she has given to the House and wish her success in her challenging Ministry. Never before have we had needed such a Ministry to be as successful as we need it to be now. The programme for Government identifies that Ireland's economic growth must be export led and commits to achieving the maximum growth in exports, including the long-term development of new markets. The Government has clearly signalled its commitment to this objective by having two Ministries with a trade-export remit, the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, at which the Minister of State has responsibility for trade. We all welcome and are very encouraged by the latest external trade figures published yesterday by the CSO which show a significant increase in exports in September, despite all the difficulties in the global economy. There was an 11% increase in the balance of trade surplus in September, month on month, amounting to €4.113 billion, just short of the all-time high of €4.183 billion achieved in June. There was a 4% increase in exports in the first eight months of the year by comparison with the same period last year.

I welcome the commitment given by the Government to implement progressively the recommendations included in the strategy and action plan for Irish trade, tourism and investment to 2015, entitled, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy, developed by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation last year. This is an integrated strategy and global in scope. It covers both established and new high growth potential markets. The targets set are ambitious. By 2015, it is hoped to create 150,000 new jobs in manufacturing, tourism and traded services, with a similar number of indirectly created jobs. The targets are to increase the value of the exports of indigenous companies by 33%, increase the number of overseas visitors to Ireland by 1 million per annum and secure an additional 780 inward investment projects through IDA Ireland. The strategy document is impressive in that it includes an in-depth analysis of recent performance across the three sectors and an aggressive action plan to build on existing strengths with a view to driving trade relations with established, new and emerging economies.

The strategy adopts a two-pronged approach focusing on particular markets and sectors. It identifies the potential to further grow existing key markets and, most particularly, increase or gain a foothold in high growth and high potential markets such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and key Middle Eastern countries. It sets a number of specific targets for our performance in key areas, to be achieved by 2015. These targets, agreed by the relevant State agencies — Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland — are to be implemented through a suite of actions driven by them.

Trade missions comprise a key element in achieving trade expansion. I encourage the two relevant Departments to increase the number of trade missions, although many would want to scale back on travel. However, trade missions are particularly productive, as the Minister indicated.

I welcome the setting up of a new Export Trade Council to strengthen co-operation and co-ordination across all Departments and State agencies involved in the promotion and development of trade and exports. This is a most positive development and pulls together all the key players, including Ministers, departmental officials, exporters, companies and business representatives.

Ireland's economic recovery will be driven by an increase in exports and the attraction of additional visitors.

Ba mhaith liom córam a ghlaoch.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

To help us to achieve our priorities and targets, we must focus on strengthening our international profile and improving our reputation abroad. There has been much progress made in the past eight or nine months in enhancing our reputation abroad and getting the public finances in order. We must maximise the benefit of trade missions and continue to leverage the benefit of St. Patrick's Day celebrations around the world. We are all aware of the wonderful opportunity it presents to showcase the very best of Ireland. I advocated that Ministers partake of St. Patrick's Day activities around the world to promote and develop our export industry.

We must develop tool kits for Irish businesses trying to enter new markets. We must develop Ireland as a hub for global enterprise and continue to build a competitive environment for enterprise. We should maximise the use of the diaspora throughout the world. The Global Irish Economic Forum was certainly an effort in this regard and I congratulate everyone involved in making it such a success.

We need to exploit the benefits of the European Single Market as we live in very challenging times. There is great uncertainty throughout the world, as other Senators said. We live in a small, open economy. We perform very well in some sectors, while our exports are buoyant. We are doing well in tourism, while the agriculture sector has considerable potential. We need to build on these sectors. The Government has a plan and a strategy. I wish the Minister of State and her colleagues every success in leading us back to economic recovery.

The Minister of State is very welcome. She knows this House well. We spent a number of years here together and it is great to see her in her new job. She has obviously taken it on with enthusiasm and is full of the necessary confidence.

I spoke this morning to former MEP Eoin Ryan, our representative on the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He told me not enough people knew about that bank, yet Irish taxpayers are contributing to it. He stated the bank had offices in many places that it would love to be used. He asked us to ensure Irish exporters used them. Irish taxpayers are entitled to use the services. The bank has offices all over the former Soviet Union and recently opened offices in Tunisia and some other north African countries. It would be a shame not to use these facilities in countries with which we may not have full diplomatic relations.

I wrote an article in theIrish Independent last week in which I raised the massive issue of Ireland’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. When we take over the chairmanship for one year, starting on 1 January, our doing so will present us with a significant opportunity. The OSCE is what is known as a regional security organisation. It has 56 members dealing with political, military, economic and environmental issues, as well as the human dimension which covers a range of areas, including human rights and the holding of free elections. Given that Ireland, as chairman, will be the focus of this massive and influential organisation, we can use the opportunity to find new international partners for Irish businesses. Given that we will be the focus of a massive and influential organisation, we can use the opportunity to leverage new international partners for Irish businesses. In particular, Ireland’s chairmanship of the OSCE will allow us to reach out to states that are increasing in wealth and importance, such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It must be kept in mind that we do not have resident representatives in these countries. Irish companies currently active or interested in doing business with those countries can expect better name recognition for Ireland during 2012. We can also look to secure investment from these growing economies. Kazakhstan, for example, is one of the world’s top 20 oil producers. Tony Blair is now advising the Government of Kazakhstan in regard to increasing its trade links with the UK. Other OSCE countries with limited supplies of natural resources, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, offer huge potential in terms of investment in their services industries.

Irish exports are our strong point. The fact that our exports to Kazakhstan have increased by 25% over the past year indicates the potential for further growth. Our chairmanship of the OSCE will gives us greater influence in making contacts and securing trade with other member states. If we are able to achieve progress in resolving the ongoing conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan by using our experience of the Northern Ireland peace process, we can expect to increase our name recognition and ability to foster trade links.

Unfortunately, the naive belief that everybody loves Ireland persists. Foreign businessmen and diplomats have pointed out to me that such a belief is far from true. Ireland's reputation has taken a severe blow from the economic, financial and political woes of recent years. We are doing our best to change this reputation but it has not helped that certain politicians touted Ireland as the model everyone should follow during the boom. I was one of those who had a great experience in explaining to people about how we moved from the bottom to the top of the pile. The reasons I outlined included social partnership, which we are shy to mention at present, investments in education and our tax rates. Ten or 15 years ago I argued in countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Panama that we had done a good job but I realise now that I was not as right as I believed. Our chairmanship of the OSCE and the EU Presidency in 2013 will help to restore our reputation as a sound and reliable member of the international community and, hopefully, boost trade. Tourists from countries that were not aware of our existence heretofore are expected to spend millions of euro in Ireland during 2012 as a direct result of our chairmanship of the OSCE.

Can the Minister of State outline what her Department is doing to take advantage of this opportunity? What business opportunities have been identified and how does she plan to inform Irish businesses about them? If she has not already done so, I implore her to start identifying the opportunities. The OSCE has limited name recognition in the western part of Europe but it is widely known in the rapidly growing post-Soviet states.

I have previously spoken on the issue of training diplomats to increase trade. My granddaughter, who turns 20 this month, was born and lives in France. She is spending her second year in university in China because she wants to be a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is not something we do in Ireland. We send our diplomats to China, Japan or Korea for three or four years when they are in their 40s or 50s but they never really learn the languages of these countries fluently. French diplomats are prepared to steep themselves in the cultures and languages of the countries to which they are deployed. We should encourage a cadre of young people in their early 20s to join our diplomatic service and live in countries like China, Japan or Korea. If they can steep themselves in the cultures of these countries, when they are appointed as ambassadors in their 40s and 50s we will be more likely to secure trade and investment. We are not looking far enough ahead, particularly given the developments occurring in places like central Asia and China.

I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to discuss these matters. She will find that we can offer useful information. I apologise if I have usurped other Senators' time.

I will share time with Senator Hayden, by agreement.

All of us are aware of the difficulties that the country faces. One route to recovery is through exports, the smart economy and tourism. Export-led growth offers a way forward if we can resolve our domestic problems and put the public finances in order. Even in these recessionary times, our export trade has grown significantly. However, we cannot be complacent and in this context I am delighted that the trade council has been established. Our performance in agri-food and tourism is encouraging. We have a strong background in education and English is the main trading language used in many of our major trading partners, including India, the UK and various parts of Europe.

There is probably an Irish bar in every city in the world but I have yet to go into one in which tourism to Ireland was promoted. There are pictures of the countryside and representations of our culture but I have yet to see a brochure advertising holidays in Ireland. Irish bars offer a potential network of tourism offices and I am sure they would be happy to distribute marketing material. No other country in the world has a similar network. People go into Irish bars because our culture means something to them. It is a brand that can be more aggressively sold.

Euro 2012 offers further marketing opportunities in Ukraine and Poland, which have a combined population of more than 80 million. As one of the smallest countries in the tournament, we will receive considerable attention. After the 1990 World Cup, Italian tourists came in their droves to Ireland because of the positive messages left by Irish fans. I have never heard of an Irish fan being arrested or found drunk, although I stand to be corrected. Perhaps there might be a focus on UEFA Euro 2012 to be held in Ukraine and Poland, two big economies. Obviously, people in Poland are familiar with Ireland because the two countries are in the European Union but Ukraine has a massive population of 46 million. As it is almost the size of France, there is potential for us to find a market there. I hope Tourism Ireland will in marketing this country avail of that opportunity next summer.

I welcome the introduction of the visa waiver scheme. A huge number of Indian people come to the United Kingdom and Ireland. English is their first language and India is a good trading nation which has a strong software industry. Many Indians live in Letterkenny and work in the Pramerica factory. They are keen to come to Ireland and develop a business here. My experience with the health care industry in Letterkenny started about 30 years ago. There are many Irish-born experts in health care who have the expertise and knowledge to develop the health care business in Ireland. The health care market worldwide is massive and growing all the time. As people are healthier and living longer, the more health care interventions and components manufactured in Ireland, the more it will help the economy.

I look forward to us developing the market in the Far East. Indonesia, for example, has a population of 400 million. There are markets in the Far East that we have not yet touched and I am delighted that there are trade missions to these countries. It is money well spent. The IDA did this to develop the export market and brought people to Ireland when it was, perhaps, not the thing to do. I am glad, therefore, that trade missions led by the Minister will be sent to these countries. Senator Quinn referred to the various "Stan" countries which, again, have a massive population base. We might think everybody knows about Ireland, but they do not. However, when they get to know it, we can trade well with them. This brings me back to the point about Irish bars. I am sure there is an Irish bar in Kazakhstan. It is probably called "Stan's Bar".

We have the potential to develop our export markets. This will get us out of our current economic straits, but it will require a great deal of hard work and, perhaps, a lot of luck. The domestic economy is flat and the European economy is not growing, but we have markets in the BRIC countries and the Far East to develop. I wish the Minister luck.

I welcome the Minister. The Celtic tiger economy was initially based on positive trade growth. I congratulate the members of our permanent representation and embassies around the world on the job they did in those wilderness years, when foreign trade was not receiving the attention it should have from the Government.

I am very impressed by the strategy. In particular, identifying Africa as an area of growth in the longer term is far-seeing. I agree with the concept of using South Africa as the hub of that growth. I suggest——

For the Senator's information, that strategy has been in place for ten years.

I am trying to inform her.

We are wasting time and there is not much left.

The reasonable way to approach Africa is by taking the bilateral approach, in the way we have done with foreign aid. We have built a number of positive relationships with the countries with which we have bilateral aid programmes. This offers us an opportunity to develop the benefits of critical mass.

There are two areas we should consider. The Minister mentioned, in the context of the Russian visit, the importance of education. I do not know if the Minister is aware of this, but the United States and the United Kingdom engage in educational franchising, that is, they franchise educational programmes in third countries. This has proved to be a successful way of bringing income into the third and fourth level systems in the United Kingdom. Similarly, medical tourism is very popular in the Middle East. It is an important source of income in a number of Middle Eastern countries. These are areas Ireland could explore in that regard. In the context of educational franchising and medical tourism, a cross-departmental approach is critical. As many of these sectors do not have the capacity to engage in export-orientated activities, it will be essential to adopt that cross-departmental approach.

I said I would ask the Minister to reply at 1.35 p.m. We have now reached that time, but four Members have indicated they wish to ask questions. This is a question and answer session and there is one minute available for each question. I will ring the bell to be fair to everybody. Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Paul Bradford, Colm Burke and Terry Brennan have indicated they wish to ask questions.

Ba mhaith liom, i dtosach báire, ár míshástacht a léiriú, mar bhaill de Shinn Féin, nach bhfuilimid ag fáil deise ráitis a dhéanamh. Is páirtí muid a sheasann ar ár gcosa féin agus tá ár bpolasaithe féin againn. Go deimhin, dúirt an tAire Iompair, Turasóireachta agus Spóirt, an Teachta Leo Varadkar, ar an gclár teilifíse, "Tonight with Vincent Browne" gur muid an fíor-fhreasúra agus ghlac sé leis go bhfuilimid at tabhairt malairt tuairimí. Fair play dó as an méid sin a rá. Tá sé thar bheith míshásúil, mar sin, nach bhfuilimid ag fáil deis ár gcuid polasaithe a chur os comhair an Aire Stáit inniu.

Ach fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit. Feictear dom go bhfuil sé scanallach nach mbíonn córam istigh le héisteacht leis an Aire Stáit nuair atá díospóireacht tábhachtach ar siúl. Ba mhaith liom roinnt ceisteanna a árdú. I have a number of questions.

The Senator has about 15 seconds left.

A number of countries were not mentioned, some of which are very good friends and good trading partners of this country and with which we have great relationships. One of them is Canada which, apparently, does not appear on the radar in the Minister's statement. I am sure it is an omission. I was in Canada recently and we have great trade relations with it.

The Senator's time has expired. He must ask a question immediately, as other Members wish to speak and we must let the Minister reply.

Another country with which we have a trade relationship is Norway. We should also examine our trade relationship with countries such as Colombia, Palestine and Israel. The Government, apparently, has very good trade relations with Israel. It is important to see what the trade goods——

The Senator's time has expired.

We only have one minute to ask questions when there are so many serious issues to be raised.

The agreement was that each Member would have one minute. I call Senator Colm Burke.

Perhaps if we had been afforded proper speaking time——

Perhaps if quorums were not being called all day, there would have been more time.

If we had been afforded proper speaking time——

There has to be give and take.

There appears to be more give than take——

Members should respect the Chair. The Senator's time has expired. I call Senator Colm Burke.

I wanted to ask if the Minister was aware if there were goods originating from Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories entering Ireland, perhaps duty free, and if they were being offered for sale as if they had originated in Israel——

The Senator must resume his seat.

——to the detriment of Palestinians on the West Bank.

The Senator must resume his seat.

I thank the Minister for giving of her time this morning. I read an article by Gordon Brown in one of the newspapers recently not only about trade between Ireland and countries outside Europe but also about Europe's role. The figures he produced showed that less than 7.5% of all exports from Europe went to the countries that accounted for 70% of the global growth rate this year. Only 2% of exports from Europe go to China, 1% to India and 1% to Brazil, countries with economies that are growing massively.

The Senator has 20 seconds left. Will he, please, ask a question?

From the Irish point of view, there is a need for joined-up thinking at European level, whereby Europe would be more proactive in ensuring we gain a bigger slice of the world market. Some years ago it accounted for 40% of the world market but now it dominates only 20%. Has there been any discussion at European level about gaining access to these markets?

In announcing his decision to shut the Irish Embassy in the Vatican the Tánaiste cited economic reasons because of the economic challenges. In other words, our embassies and overseas missions must pay their way. In this context and given that the appointment of ambassadors has always been the preserve of the public service and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is it time to reflect on a suggestion made repeatedly in both Houses in the past ten or 20 years? I refer to the suggestion that some of those holding ambassadorial roles need not necessarily come from the Civil Service stream. Instead, they could be former business people or politicians who could make excellent trade ambassadors. Ireland is unique in having ambassadorial appointments entirely as the preserve of what I call a certain elitist class. Should consideration be given to appointing people from outside the Civil Service, with experience in business, commerce and politics, to serve in some of the key overseas posts?

Excellent, the Senator was right on time.

Were that to happen, there would be a strike in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Sorry, Senator. I call Senator Brennan who has one minute.

I remind Senator Noone that Senator Brennan has the floor.

I will be brief. I have listened to the debate in the Chamber for most of the morning and small and medium enterprises have not received recognition for the part they must and will play, if given the opportunity. Many small industries began in back kitchens, garages or homes and have developed. I am aware of one which has developed into an enterprise employing 12 or 14 people which now produces for a worldwide market. While there are entrepreneurs in all communities, it should be part of Government policy that provision be made by local authorities, county enterprise boards or some agency for the making available of developed sites for small industries on an industrial estate. We cannot depend on multinationals forever and the future lies in having small industries. It should be Government policy to provide such sites. I am aware of one such site in County Meath that has 120 people working on it. Imagine having a similar estate in each county. Ten times 26 is 260 and with ten people working on each, one would have a couple of hundred thousand people. This space should be provided, as it is needed.

I apologise to the Minister of State. While I stated she would have ten minutes in which to reply, she has only three. I will warn her with 30 seconds to go and note that she stated she would reply in writing.

To facilitate the Minister of State, might the Leader extend the debate by five minutes?

I propose the House extend the time allowed for this debate by five minutes to allow the Minister of State to respond.

As there is no point in voting on it, I ask the Minister of State to respond within three minutes. This is the first time such a situation has arisen in allowing a Minister to respond.

I thank all Members who have been constructive in the debate. I will respond as quickly and as comprehensively as I can, but I will forward replies to those questions I do not have time to answer.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister of State, but I have been informed that I must put the proposed objection to the House unless it is withdrawn.

There is no seconder.

There is no seconder for the Leader's proposal.

I am informed a seconder is not needed to call a vote on the issue. Is Senator Ó Clochartaigh withdrawing his objection?

The question is, "That the time be extended by five minutes——

I withdraw my proposal to extend the time allowed for the debate.

As the proposal has been withdrawn, the Minister of State now has two minutes in which to complete her reply.

I again thank those Senators who were constructive in the debate. The vast majority of contributions were highly constructive and I will incorporate them in ongoing discussions, as they were made in a positive manner. I will draw a few conclusions. In this context, I note that in the very first contribution Senator White raised the issue of job creation. Essentially, our recovery will be export-led——

Senator White should note that the Minister of State is responding to her.

Senator White raised the issue of job creation. To create jobs, we must continue to grow our exports. That is my main message and focus.

I will include all the positive suggestions that have come from this House. I refer, for example, to using strategic opportunities such as those presented by our chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE; our participation in the soccer finals next year in Ukraine and Poland and the Olympic Games next year. In the context of the Olympic Games, Senator Walsh asked whether the visa arrangement was reciprocal. Unfortunately, it is not at present, but the discussions are ongoing. However, that proposal originated in Ireland in order that we could use the opportunity provided by the Olympic Games to attract tourists from other countries. The point on Irish bars is another interesting one. We will incorporate all these ideas because we want to use whatever suggestions are coming from across the floor.

In response to the single question from Sinn Féin, Canada is a priority market. There were so many other questions that I will not be able to cover them.

Even though I may not have referred to each country on an individual basis, we have a strong focus on the BRIC countries and the various opportunities they offer. The co-ordinated Africa strategy referred to by Senator Hayden was only published in September and we will be building on that development. I am glad Senator Quinn raised the issue of contact with our representative on the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Mr. Eoin Ryan, because he also contacted me in this regard. I am glad this point was raised publicly because there is little awareness of the existence of the bank. There are other international banks with which we are also linked.

I thank Members for their contributions and will revert to them with answers to any questions to which I have not replied.

I thank the Minister of State for her attendance. She will revert to Members on those questions she has not answered.

Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.