Friday 26 May 2017

Ireland's plan to trade out of trouble flawed

More Irish trade officials in Paris than in India and Brazil as focus is on drowning economies

STRATEGY UPDATE: Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton
STRATEGY UPDATE: Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton

Roisin Burke

THE State body charged with helping Irish companies grow their business overseas has a handful of staff in new and emerging markets but hordes of executives are manning desks in flailing European countries and in the US.

Economic recovery hopes are pinned on exports leading the way, with the EU/IMF deal and the State expecting at least 5 per cent a year growth up to 2015. There's just one little problem: some of our biggest export markets are bombed out and careening towards recession.

The US and the UK are by far Ireland's biggest export markets, followed by Belgium, Germany and France. With the UK and US markets possibly sliding into recession and the eurozone in quagmire, that's almost 55 per cent of our existing export markets looking severely challenged.

So what's our plan B? Well, it's there but much like the markets we should be targeting, it's still emerging. Irish trade policy is only starting to catch up with the new world order.

Enterprise Ireland has two executives in Italy, but it has just two staff in Brazil for the whole of Latin America. The whole of Russia is serviced by three executives, but there are two staff members in Spain.

Just two Enterprise Ireland execs operate in India and five in China but there are five people attached to EI's Paris base in economically floundering France.

There are about 60 executives in offices in Europe with its ageing consumer population and sluggish economies plus 12 more in the US, but there are only 12 executives based in emerging market areas.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton last month acknowledged that Ireland's trade plan needs updating to boost exports. He will surely factor in greater emphasis on emerging markets to any strategy.

John Whelan of the Irish Exporters Association says exporters want to see far more advisers in growing markets.

"In the Moscow office in particular, we would say it is short of staff and it would be appropriate to have an additional office in St Petersburg, closer to big markets like Ukraine," he said.

"In India we have one office in Delhi but the main base for industry is Mumbai. It is a very large subcontinent so another office in Mumbai is something we would recommend.

"Two executives in Brazil is not sufficient really to energise and put a very focused effort behind any exporter trying to get into the market there.

"We're not saying to reduce presence in existing offices, we're saying staff in Ireland should be transferred into the markets overseas. Something like just 10 per cent of Enterprise Ireland staff are overseas, versus 90 per cent in Ireland," John Whelan said.

Colin Lawlor, vice president of the Irish Exporters Association and commercial director of BiancaMed, a medical technology firm owned by listed multinational ResMed, has high praise for Enterprise Ireland executives in the field -- where they exist.

"The Enterprise Ireland staff and the service to exporters is excellent, but we need more of them. Asia currently represents 25 per cent of world trade and that's forecast to grow to 50 per cent in coming years. With just 4 per cent of Irish exports going to Asia, we are woefully under-trading in this market.

"A planned ministerial trade mission to China was cancelled due to the economic situation at home. There hasn't been one to Russia by a senior politician for some time. This year saw the first trade mission to India in five years. That's just not enough," he said.

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