Julie Sinnamon warns of threat to exporters as Enterprise Ireland-backed firms lose over 17,000 jobs
The true impact of the European Union-UK trade agreement will be felt among Irish exporters from this week onwards, according to Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon.
While the UK and EU have agreed on a free trade agreement, firms that move goods to, from or through Britain face additional customs requirements.
“A lot of Irish companies had stockpiled in the UK and they had stockpiled in Ireland from the UK in terms of raw materials, so I think it is only from this week onwards that you are going to see a more normal reflection of the impact of Brexit,” Ms Sinnamon told the Irish Independent.
“I think the first couple of weeks, between Christmas holidays and stockpiling, the level of trade would have been down from normal weekly average levels,” she added.
The State agency has approved €7.6m to support 1,000 customs roles in businesses in order to help exporters comply with new customs rules arising from Brexit.
Ms Sinnamon warned that some companies still have not made proper plans to address the new requirements. In the manufacturing sector, one in five firms here have yet to put in place people or processes to deal with new customs rules, according to Enterprise Ireland /PMI data.
Some 31pc of exports from Enterprise Ireland-supported companies went to the UK last year.
The agency has previously set a target to increase exports into the eurozone by 50pc by 2020. The results of this will be known by the middle of this year, according to Ms Sinnamon.
Nonetheless, the UK will remain a top priority.
“It is our number one market… we have continued to grow our exports into the UK market, but we have grown the rest of the world at a faster rate and that has been a specific focus,” Ms Sinnamon said.
Over 17,000 jobs were lost at Enterprise Ireland supported companies last year, as Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the economy.
The level of job losses was up “probably by about 50pc” on the prior year.
Job creation closely matched the performance in 2019, with 16,496 new positions developed in Enterprise Ireland-backed companies.
Overall, there were net job losses of 872.
The fall in jobs was largely due to staff reductions in companies, according to Ms Sinnamon, with a small number of firms closing down.
Enterprise Ireland client companies in some sectors saw significant growth including those in the life sciences, cleantech, and construction sectors. Companies operating in the food sector as well as in information communications technology reported net job losses.
In total €142m was provided to 1,919 companies under a range of Covid-19 funding initiatives introduced in response to the pandemic.
Of this, €124m in funding under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund helped 418 companies and 17,710 jobs.
There was also €8.2m approved under the Enterprise Centres Fund.
In terms of investing into businesses, Ms Sinnamon said that in 2020 “if anything, Enterprise Ireland relaxed its investment criteria in order to help continue to drive economic growth throughout the crisis.”