Saturday 17 August 2019

Ireland on US watchlist of trade threats as Trump's visit looms

State visit: Publican Tommy Tubridy helps to put up bunting to festoon the streets of Doonbeg before Donald Trump’s trip. Photo: Reuters
State visit: Publican Tommy Tubridy helps to put up bunting to festoon the streets of Doonbeg before Donald Trump’s trip. Photo: Reuters

Donal O'Donovan, Kevin Doyle and Ian Begley

Ireland is lobbying US authorities to argue we are not a trade threat or benefiting from an uneven relationship after being placed on a watchlist of nine nations America regards as potential currency threats.

It comes just a week before US President Donald Trump is due to make his first visit to Ireland since taking office.

His unpredictable policy making and "America First" rhetoric means Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government will be keen to play down any suggestion Ireland has gained an advantage over the United States in trade or tax policy for fear of provoking a backlash.

Ireland joined China, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam on the monitoring list, reflecting all of those countries' favourable trade balances with the US.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe yesterday stressed the US benefits from Irish trade, including 100,000 American jobs.

The US Treasury data was based only on goods sold and so misses the scale of services we buy from the US and also fails to capture Irish investment in the US and the associated creation of American jobs, he said.

"Irish companies now employ 100,000 people in America," he said.

"What has happened is that they have expanded the number of countries now on this list very significantly. Because Ireland has so many global companies that are located out of here, it indicates that a surplus is in place in the trading between both countries.

"Of course, when you include services in the overall calculation we have a trading relationship that is approaching balance," Mr Donohoe said.

Irish officials are engaged with the US Treasury to put that case, he added.

Since 1988 the US Treasury is required by law to report to Congress every six months whether any countries are manipulating currencies to gain trade advantages. As part of that it keeps a watchlist of countries with very high levels of goods exports into the US versus what they buy from America.

Ireland is on the list despite not having its own currency, and is not accused of acting unfairly. The US stopped short of calling any nation, even China, a currency manipulator.

Ireland has been in the US bad books previously. In 2014 then president Barack Obama accused Ireland of "gaming the system" for allowing American corporations to move their tax bases here.

But going on the watchlist a week ahead of Mr Trump's visit creates a potential new twist in an already fraught diplomatic environment.

Activist groups are organising a major protest at Shannon Airport for the duration of the visit next week.

Mr Trump is due to arrive in Ireland on June 5 where he is expected to meet Mr Varadkar at Shannon. The day after, he will travel from Ireland to France to attend D-Day commemorations before returning to his golf resort in Doonbeg later that evening. He is then expected to fly out of Shannon Airport on June 7.

Activists including anti-war protesters, plan on setting up a "peace camp" outside the airport for Mr Trump's three-day visit.

During his stay, letters will be delivered to Mr Trump and Mr Varadkar, calling for an immediate end to the "US military use of Shannon Airport" and the "environmental destruction of the planet".

Organisers say the protest will be a family friendly with banners, art and music. Hundreds are also expected to attend an anti-Trump rally in Dublin on June 6.

Irish Independent

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