I want to thank Julie Sinnamon, and all at Enterprise Ireland, for inviting me to launch International Markets Week 2017 - I am delighted to be here.
Exports create the wealth and the value that sustain the jobs and the services on which so many people up and down our country depend. That’s why today is so important.
Exports helped us come through the bad years.
They helped us to recover and to grow badly needed jobs around the country as things began to improve.
And winning internationally is what we must do again in the face of the known and unknown challenges that lie ahead.
Enterprise Ireland client exports have been performing strongly in recent years. 2016 was a record year.
Export figures were up across the majority of our markets with double-digit growth in many sectors including software, life sciences and engineering.
This demonstrates the commitment, the drive, the ambition and determination of hard working Irish companies, from start-up entrepreneurs to SMEs and our own home grown multinationals.
Many of you here today - representing companies located in every region in Ireland - are exporting world class, innovative products and services to global markets.
Ireland has long been recognised as one of the most open trading economies in the world.
It is in our DNA to travel, to engage and to sell. We have no choice.
As a consequence, ours is a highly competitive, export-driven economy which has recovered very strongly from the economic crisis of the last decade.
One of my priorities as Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation is to drive jobs growth in every county of Ireland and I want to ensure that increasing export sales translates into creating and sustaining jobs across all of Ireland.
Brexit, of course, is central to the work of my Department and the work of all of you here today. Yes, we have strong economic growth and falling unemployment, but significant challenges lie ahead.
From the day of the referendum on 23 June 2016, the decision of the UK to leave the EU has impacted on business, particularly exports.
Despite the record export figures last year, growth in exports to the UK has declined.
The importance of the currency situation cannot be understated and of course there are other immediate issues such as general business uncertainty and decisions about whether to invest or not.
I can assure you that the Government is fully alive to these challenges.
For example, we are working on proposals to bring in a working capital loan guarantee scheme to alleviate the cash flow problems that companies are facing.
And I am working with Minister for Finance Pascal Donohue to ensure that 2018 Budget will support companies in as many ways as possible.
I recently met with the EU’s Chief Negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, and discussed with him Ireland’s concerns in relation to enterprise and trade and highlighted the types of solutions that might be considered to support firms that are especially impacted by Brexit.
If needed, there is a lot that can be done within the existing EU State Aid Framework. Should issues arise that require an approach that does not fit within the existing rules, we will move quickly to advance this with the Commission.
But we also have to imagine the trading world post Brexit – whatever new trading relationship that brings – and that is what International Markets Weeks is all about.
Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for its clients is to grow bigger and better Irish companies –by investing in new companies, making and selling new products in new markets across the globe.
Now is the time to accelerate that strategy.
Now is the time to have “global ambition”.
An immediate focus of the new strategy is the Eurozone market.
The Eurozone is currently the second largest export market for Irish companies and the objective is to double export sales by 2020 leveraging on the already strong trading relationship in the region.
That level of ambition will also be matched in other growth markets.
Two weeks ago, I announced the commission of a major study of Global Trade Opportunities to help Irish businesses expand abroad and face the challenge that Brexit brings head on.
The study, which will commence in October, will be a major examination of the economic opportunities and impacts for Ireland arising from EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
This study will demonstrate how Ireland can best benefit from the opportunities presented by EU Free Trade agreements, explore how they impact our economy across a wide range of economic sectors and explore the role of Brexit.
The EU trade agenda is moving ahead swiftly with preparations for the opening of trade talks, for example with New Zealand and Australia, well underway.
This work will be supplemented by resources and action on the ground.
Together with my Ministerial colleagues, I will be leading an ambitious programme of Trade Missions coordinated by Enterprise Ireland in the months ahead to assist Irish companies to do business abroad.
I look forward to meeting many of you at these events and supporting your ambition to grow your business operations around the world.
Last week, An Taoiseach, while attending an Enterprise Ireland business event in Toronto, announced Government’s plans to double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025.
This means new and augmented diplomatic missions as well as significantly increased resources for our investment, tourism, cultural and food agencies overseas.
The key aims of Ireland’s Global Footprint 2025 are to attract greater investment into Ireland; to expand our investment and trade footprint in foreign markets, to boost tourism and to build stronger links with our diaspora, especially our very business-savvy younger generation located abroad.
The new EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, for example, will mean that 98% of the tariff barriers to trade between Canada and Ireland will be removed. This will help unlock the enormous untapped potential for greater trade and investment between Ireland and Canada.
And that brings us right back to International Markets Week.
I am delighted that over the next three days, over 600 Irish exporters will pass through these doors and make plans to expand their business operations globally.
I believe over 130 Enterprise Ireland expert market advisors have travelled back to Dublin this week from the four corners of the world to help Irish businesses win more business globally.
You are our business experts and our eyes and ears on the ground in global territories.
Your work, at the coalface in those very competitive markets, is very much appreciated, not just by your clients but by the Government also.
I understand we also have a dedicated Brexit zone here in the RDS today, supporting companies to plan for the challenges ahead in the areas of managing Currency Risk, Supply Chain optimisation and Transport & Logistics solutions.
I would also like to endorse and congratulate Enterprise Ireland on the first phase of their new Irish Advantage marketing campaign which you see beautifully displayed all around the venue this morning.
Julie will officially unveil and describe the campaign in detail shortly but this campaign is all about raising awareness of Irish innovation in key sectors with the aim of generating new business leads and opportunities for Irish exporters.
I want to encourage you therefore, as hard-working innovative Irish indigenous companies - to take full advantage of the expertise here on offer today and for the rest of the week.
Listen to the advice, learn about the introductions that are there to be made with a view to building relationships and partnerships that will lead to business wins on a global scale.
I want to finish by reiterating the Government’s commitment to ensure that, through Enterprise Ireland, we have the right supports in place to help high growing businesses to realise their ambition to become global players and employers of choice in the future.
I am strongly committed to ensuring that the Government is doing everything possible to respond strongly to the impacts of Brexit and to safeguard Irish jobs in every part of the country, to protect investment and to expand exports.
And with that aim in mind I wish you a highly successful engagement over the coming days.