Irish trade mission seeks deeper ties with Asia

Irish Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys calls on Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran at Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry on March 19, 2019.
Irish Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys calls on Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran at Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry on March 19, 2019. PHOTO: S ISWARAN/FACEBOOK

Four Irish companies have pledged to set up new offices here to strengthen their Asian footprint during a two-day trade and investment mission to Singapore.

The delegation, led by Irish Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, wrapped up its last leg of a tour to Australia and Singapore yesterday, as Ireland aims to diversify its market exposure with Brexit looming on the horizon.

Companies served by Irish government agencies Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland took part in business meetings featuring Singapore-based firms such as United Overseas Bank, ST Aerospace, Keppel Corp and the Kuok Group.

Aviation, healthcare, digital technology and engineering were named by Ms Humphreys as some key sectors where Singapore offers opportunities to Irish exporters.

Ms Humphreys and Singapore's Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, Mr S. Iswaran, discussed "possible areas for further collaboration, including emerging areas such as medtech and fintech, and also opportunities to leverage Ireland's strengths in food innovation" in a meeting on Tuesday, according to a Facebook post by Mr Iswaran.

Ireland aims to increase its exports to markets beyond Britain by 50 per cent by 2020. Preliminary official Irish statistics show that goods exports to Britain were worth €14.1 billion (S$21.6 billion) last year, or about 10 per cent of all of Ireland's exports in goods.

The United Kingdom, with which the Republic of Ireland shares both a land and a sea border, is set to withdraw from the European Union on March 29. Ireland has unveiled a slew of measures such as advisory grants for small and medium-sized enterprises that would be affected by changes such as new Customs requirements.

According to the Irish agencies, about 300 firms from the Asia-Pacific now operate in Ireland, with close to one-third of them hailing from either Australia or Asean.

Meanwhile, the bilateral trade in goods between Ireland and Singapore was worth a combined €994 million in 2017, while trade in services was €3.72 billion that same year, according to figures from Ireland's Central Statistics Office.

Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, called Ireland "an important economic partner to Singapore and our largest services trading partner in the EU". He wrote in his post: "As small and open economies, Ireland and Singapore share many synergies and complementarities, and we recognise the importance of upholding an open and connected global economy."

The European Parliament voted on Feb 13 in favour of free trade and investment agreements with Singapore. When these EU-Singapore deals take effect, "they will provide support for Irish companies looking to use Singapore as a launchpad to tap the opportunities in the fast-growing Asean region", said Mr Iswaran, adding that he looks forward to "the continued deepening of economic linkages between our countries".

The latest office commitments - from biotechnology and pharmaceutical consultancy KPC-International, energy plant operator Mainstream Renewable Power, financial services provider TransferMate and business solutions firm Enterpryze - came alongside partnerships such as a pact signed between Irish forklift manufacturer Combilift and dealer Lisman Forklifts.

Mr Kevin Sherry, executive director for global business development at Enterprise Ireland, said in a statement on March 12 that "expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK is a key priority for Enterprise Ireland".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Irish trade mission seeks deeper ties with Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe