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Strong US relationship sees Ireland well placed to grow in post-Covid world


Johnson & Johnson, which has developed a vaccine for Covid-19, is one of several US pharma companies with an Irish base. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Johnson & Johnson, which has developed a vaccine for Covid-19, is one of several US pharma companies with an Irish base. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Johnson & Johnson, which has developed a vaccine for Covid-19, is one of several US pharma companies with an Irish base. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Even amid the pandemic, the business relationship between Ireland and the United States has gone from strength to strength.

Last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadlar launched the American Chamber’s 2021 US-Ireland Business Report, which shows an increase in the number of US companies operating in Ireland over the last decade.

The figure now stands at over 800, and shows an increase in the numbers employed here by US companies to 180,000, up from 100,000 a decade ago.

Today, Ireland is home to the world’s top five global software companies, 14 of the globe’s 15 top med-tech companies and all the top pharma companies.

One-fifth of Covid-19 related products are made here. This is even more remarkable considering how decades ago, Ireland had legislation on the statute books to actively stymie the foreign control of manufacturing in the country.

Thankfully, attitudes towards foreign direct investment (FDI) have changed since then, as Ireland opened itself to the world.

We are fortunate to have strong economic diplomats in our state agencies.

IDA Ireland won 246 new investments and 20,123 new jobs in 2020 – and 52pc of these projects went to the regions outside Dublin. 94pc of American Chamber members surveyed recently said their corporate headquarters had a positive view of Ireland as a place for future investment.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Ireland has risen to become the ninth largest source of FDI in the US. Enterprise Ireland-supported companies sent €4.31bn in goods and services to the US market in 2019 and there are now 110,000 employees of Irish companies across all 50 states. In fact, more than 650 Irish firms now have a US base.

Joseph Quinlan, a Wall Street Economist, writing in the report, says Ireland will continue to lead the way when it comes to attracting the capital of some of the world’s most innovative companies.

He points to the fact that, according to figures from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, Ireland’s share of US investment stock in Europe has doubled since the start of the millennium. In 2019, the figure stood at 9.9pc.

According to the latest figures from the United Nations, Ireland was one of the few countries in the world to register a rise in FDI inflows during the first half of 2020. Ireland serves as a key access hub for a market that is on par with the size of America’s economy and more than China’s total output.

Commentators often ask what will drive inward investment to Ireland in the years ahead. The answer, I believe, is our people.

As firms scan the world for the best places to serve customers, find innovation and secure a return on investment, the major issue corporate leaders face is access to talent.

We are entering a post-Covid-19 economy where the future of work and the ability of a person to work from almost anywhere are significant concerns.

This year, the American Chamber is asking Government to place a special emphasis on benchmarking Ireland’s attractiveness for international talent in this new, competitive environment.

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How does Ireland compare on residential accommodation costs? Where does Ireland sit against competitors on business red tape, personal taxation and the ease of navigating the visa and permits system?

Undertaking this exercise will help us understand the gaps we need to close to maintain our strong reputation.

We must also keep our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the broader transformation of our economy and society.

We have to stay ahead, in terms of the changes brought on by global technological revolutions – for example, automation within our advanced manufacturing sector.

We must keep driving the enhancements we’ve seen through the digitalisation of public services, and keep apace with the transition to the green economy.

Ireland has many advantages, including its position as an English-speaking, euro-denominated, EU member. Even without the UK, the European Union will remain one of the most attractive markets in the world for US business.

The reasons for this are well known, such as the single market, political stability, pro-business policies and a consistent regulatory regime. Ireland is perfectly positioned to be the bridge that explains Europe to the US, and the US to Europe.

US multinationals will remain among the most globally-minded entities in the world – they go where there are opportunities for growth.

This is a business imperative for them – while the US market is large and wealthy, US firms must operate abroad or experience a decline in their size, operations and earnings in the long term.

If we focus on our competitiveness and talent-attraction strategy now, Ireland will remain that international location of choice into the future. We have already proven our worth as a highly valued global partner of US business.

As US-Ireland Business 2021 lays out, Irish-US links are among the deepest in the world.

I am confident these deep links will survive through the current uncertainty and stay strong for another sixty years.

Gareth Lambe is President of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland

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