Ireland’s trade prospects are hampered by the legacy of our past – and we should be looking to Asia

A radical rethink of how we do business with Asia is required if Ireland’s vision of a €100 billion two-way trade with the world’s wealthiest region is to become a reality.

In early 2020, the government published its ambitious trade plan in the document “Delivering in the Asia-Pacific Region to 2025”.

However, our exports to Asian markets declined – mainly due to Covid – falling 1 percent to 2.14 billion euros by the end of 2020.

Members of Asia Matters, Ireland’s only Asian think tank, know that sustainable business growth across the region depends heavily on our ability to understand the right partners and work meaningfully with them.

When you do business in Asia, you get back what you put into it.

Official visits, such as the Taoiseach’s recent four-day tour of Singapore and Japan, provide impetus to create and drive new initiatives to promote bilateral trade.

One opportunity we would like to see on the trip would be Japan prioritizing the opening of a Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) office in Dublin.


Taoiseach Micheal Martin with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Japan-Ireland Summit in Tokyo July 20, 2022

JETRO is the Japanese government agency responsible for promoting trade between Japan and the rest of the world.

There are 400 Japanese companies in Atlanta, Georgia, where JETRO has an office. In Ireland, where there is no JETRO office, there are 40.

When Taoiseach Michéal Martin recently broke ground on Ireland House in Tokyo, it marked a key phase in the State Department’s largest investment project to date.

Scheduled for completion in 2024, the €21 million building will not only house the new Irish Embassy in Japan, but also the headquarters of Tourism Ireland, Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.

Two-way trade with Japan is now worth nearly €20 billion and Ireland House will no doubt become a key hub for Irish companies looking to do even more business in the world’s third largest economy.


Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in July

As a result of this visit, it would not harm our country’s reputation if Mr. Martin or Mr. Varadkar attended the state funeral of the country’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 27, along with other global leaders in Japan.

As someone who has lived and worked in Japan and speaks the language on a daily basis, I know that our participation would be taken as a mark of respect and would be remembered by the Japanese people.

But Ireland needs to do much more to strengthen our trade links with Asia.

Our next mission, if you will pardon the pun, should be to promote a Singaporean embassy in Dublin.

The fact that an economic power like Singapore, where English is the official language, has no ambassador in Ireland is a matter of great concern.


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

As absurd as it sounds in this post-Brexit era, Ireland is being expelled from the Singapore embassy in England. Although we are the largest English speaking country in the EU, we are literally a subsidiary of the London Singapore office.

Building stronger ties with Singapore would also give our companies better access to the vast Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market.

In addition to Singapore, the ASEAN trading bloc includes nine other countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. In 2020, its GDP was just over $3 trillion.

It’s a huge market – but of all ASEAN countries, only Malaysia has an embassy in Ireland. That needs to change.

We must seize our opportunities when they present themselves if we want two-way trade between Ireland and Asia to reach €100 billion by 2025.

Reaching the 100 billion euro mark in trade with Asia is no pipe dream

When you do business in Asia, you get back what you put into it. It takes time and effort.

We also have to ask ourselves what other smaller countries are doing. Let’s take Denmark for example. With 5.8 million inhabitants, it is about the size of Ireland – but exports almost twice as much to Asia.

Ireland competes globally because of the quality of our people, but we need more groundedness in Asia to compete effectively and increase trade.

Our strongest trading partners remain Europe and America, where the combined economies account for less than 44 percent of global GDP – in contrast to Asia, where almost half of the world’s wealth is created.

We are hampered by the legacy of our past – a legacy that has left the country stuck in English-speaking mode when we should be focusing instead on the emerging markets of the future.

Reaching the 100 billion euro mark in trade with Asia is no pipe dream. Between 2007 and 2017, Ireland’s two-way trade with the region more than doubled, from €23 billion to €56 billion.

There’s no reason why it couldn’t double again.

Asian Matters Managing Director Martin Murray is also Honorary Consul of the Republic of Indonesia in Ireland. With 20 years of experience in EU-Asia trade, public diplomacy and intercultural relations, he is considered a leading Asia business expert Ireland’s trade prospects are hampered by the legacy of our past – and we should be looking to Asia

Fry Electronics Team

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