Irish trade mission seeks deeper ties with Singapore, Asia with Brexit looming

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

SINGAPORE - 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 on Wednesday its last leg of a tour to Australia and Singapore, as the Emerald Isle aims to diversify its market exposure with Brexit looming on the horizon.

Companies that are served by Irish government agencies Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland took part in a slew of 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, S Iswaran, also 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 (March 19), according to a Facebook post by Mr Iswaran on Tuesday.

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 euros (S$21.6 billion) in 2018, 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 preparatory measures such as advisory grants for small and medium-sized enterprises that would be affected by changes like new customs requirements and supply chain disruptions.

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

Meanwhile, the bilateral trade in goods between Ireland and Singapore was worth a combined 994 million euros in 2017, while trade in services came up to 3.72 billion euros 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".

"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," he wrote in Tuesday's Facebook post.

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.

He added 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.

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

"We are working closely with Irish industry to pursue realisable opportunities to support greater market diversification throughout the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

He noted that "Australia and Singapore have proven to be soft landing zones for Irish companies that want to test the market with a view to targeting and growing in the wider region."

As part of Ireland's "Global Ireland 2025" strategy and post-Brexit export strategy, Enterprise Ireland confirmed that it would open an office in Ho Chi Minh City and Melbourne. It also has an Australian outpost in Sydney. Vietnam had previously been served from the Singapore office.