Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Trade Promotion: Discussion with Asia Matters
I apologise to members for the late start to this meeting, which is the result of the Dáil being adjourned as a mark of respect to the late Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. I and many other Members of the Houses travelled to County Louth earlier to attend Detective Garda Donohoe's funeral and most of us have just returned. I am sure all members of this committee will extend their sympathies to the Garda Commissioner and to Adrian Donohoe's wife, Caroline, and the other members of this family.
We are joined by a very interesting individual, Mr. Martin Murray, who I met approximately six months ago and who is executive director of Asia Matters. The latter is an independent and apolitical think-tank which was established to bring enhanced partnership by Irish interest in the EU-Asia interaction and relations. It also has the objective of building and reinforcing EU-Asia networks to deepen mutual understanding in order to produce shared benefit and value. Mr. Murray is here to share his organisation's perspective on trade promotion in the context of a series of meetings and other activities the committee has been undertaking in respect of trade promotion and the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in economic recovery.
The aim of the committee's examination is to prepare and publish a report on the strategy and response of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to the economic crisis, the Department's newly recognised responsibilities in trade promotion and the programme for Government in terms of trade promotion and economic and reputational recovery and how well the Department is performing in these respects.
The committee commenced the process in 2012 with the formal adoption of a scoping document. We have discussed the issues with senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and have held meetings with the main State agencies involved in trade and investment. A delegation of the committee had 30 trade related meetings in three cities in the United States. I travelled to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Foreign Minister and had a number of trade meetings there. The committee also heard private sector views from IBEC and the Irish Exporters Association. As we know, the Irish Exporters Association was supportive of the idea of Ireland placing more emphasis on Asia.
The committee also intends to examine the way in which the visa system supports or inhibits trade promotion and to meet organisations with perspectives on the promotion of agricultural exports. More recently, we have sought meetings with organisations which are involved in the development of mutual trading relationships with key markets.
At this meeting the committee will focus on the potential for Ireland to avail of the exciting trade opportunities Asia has to offer. We hope Mr. Murray can offer views on how trade promotion infrastructure can be harnessed to maximum advantage.
Early last year we saw the importance of the visit of the Chinese Vice President, Mr. Xi Jinping, who is now the incoming President. Ireland is the only country in Europe which Mr. Xi Jinping has visited before he takes over the Presidency in March. We have seen much business since with China. There are other areas as well, which I am sure Mr. Murray will explain.
Before I invite Mr. Murray to make his presentation, I advise him that he is protected by absolute privilege in respect of utterances at this committee meeting. However, if he is directed by the committee to cease making remarks on a particular matter and he continues to so do, he is entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of his remarks. He is directed that only comments and evidence in regard to the subject matter of this meeting is to be given and he is asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, he should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House of the Oireachtas, a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome Mr. Murray to the committee and look forward to hearing about the exciting ideas Asia Matters has. I am sure members will be very anxious to ask questions on trade with Asia.
Mr. Martin Murray:
I am very happy to be here and appreciate the opportunity, in particular given the circumstances of the sad day that is in it. Before I start, I would like to make a standard disclaimer. The views I will express are my own and do not reflect those of any organisation or government with whom I have any affiliation. Equally, the statistics I will give are given in good faith but obviously are subject to verification. Prior to this meeting, I distributed some speaking notes and, with the Chairman's permission, I will outline some thoughts based on these notes after which I will take questions.
Mr. Martin Murray:
In preparing for this meeting, I thought it might be useful to pose some basic questions. Members will already be familiar with many of the answers but I will give perhaps slightly different perspectives on them. The key questions are why Asia matters in a broader sense, why Asia matters to Ireland and the key trade opportunity sectors in Asian markets for Ireland. I will outline a little of Asia Matters' activities and how they blend in with Ireland Inc. activities in regard to Asia. Hopefully, we are saving the best until last but I will make suggestions to further Ireland's trade with Asia.
Why does Asia matter? Everyone is aware that Asia is essentially changing the world as we know it. This is the century of Asian economic growth, which has profound implications for Asia, Europe and the rest of the world. The Asian Development Bank, of which Ireland is a member, estimates that Asia will double its share of global GDP to 52% by 2050. China, the fastest growing economy in the world, with 9.2% economic growth in 2011, presents huge opportunities. Even if growth slows, as anticipated, it will very soon become the world's largest economy. Japan, which remains an industrial giant, with 8.4% of world GDP, is Asia's largest overseas FDI investor, and 10% of the top 100 global companies are Japanese. Many countries in Asia now have annual GDP growth of 6% or more.
Of the top ten largest global cities by population, seven are in Asia and, as we know, many cities in Asia now have populations greater than entire population of Ireland. I will give some examples based on the metro area of the cities. The largest city in the world is Tokyo in Japan, with more than 32 million people. Seoul has more than 20 million people, Mumbai, has 19 million, Jakarta has almost 19 million, Delhi has 18 million, Osaka has 17 million and Shanghai has more than 16 million. If one moves into the second tier, Manila in the Philippines has just over 16 million. This will have huge implications globally in the future in terms of growth, economic opportunity, where consumers are and Irish trade policy.
Why does Asia matter to Ireland? Ireland needs to embrace the change happening globally because of Asia. We obviously need to go where growth is and we need more business from Asia to grow our economy and create jobs. Currently, the Irish Exporters Association has advised us that only 4% of Irish trade goes to Asia compared with 20% going to the EU. We obviously have a lot of catching up to do.
Our history with Asia is relatively recent. We do not have long historical relations, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing in that we have no colonial legacy or no historical baggage but it is a bad thing in that we do not have long-standing relationships. Perhaps the best relationships we have at senior level in Asia were started through our missionaries, many of whom educated some of the leaders of today's private and public society in Asia.
The year 2012 saw increased bilateral engagement between Asia and Ireland, including high level reciprocal visits by the Taoiseach and Asian leaders. As the Chairman correctly stated, the visit of Vice President Xi Jinping was a game changer. The Taoiseach, along with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, led a return visit in March following Vice President's Xi Jinping's visit in February. I happened to be on that delegation and it certainly resonated very well with Chinese partners, companies and buyers and on the Irish side. That was an example of Ireland doing something very well within a relatively short period of time.
Part of our problem is that 90% of our trade to Asia comes from Ireland-based multinationals, so only 10% of our trade with Asia comes from indigenous Irish companies. Obviously, we need to grow that. However, in 2011, according to Enterprise Ireland figures released last year, Irish company exports to China grew by 29% and 17% to Asia overall, so we are heading in the right direction.
Equally, the purchasing power of the Japanese consumer for quality goods and services remains very strong. One gets different figures but it is estimated that the average household savings in Japan are somewhere in the region of €250,000 to €350,000.
There are substantial funds available from wealthy consumers who are looking to buy quality goods and services. Clearly this has implications for tourism as well. Clear potential also exists in India, Korea and key ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
I compliment the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, on his address to the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament last week in which he encouraged the restoration of the EU generalised system of preferences for Myanmar, or Burma as some people call it, given recent democratic reforms. My understanding is that Ireland does not have diplomatic relations with Myanmar at present. Given the re-engagement of the US, the EU and the reopening of embassies by some EU countries in Myanmar, I think this is worth reviewing. I am sure the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as always, is on top of this, but I think it is important to consider this country. It has been reported in the media recently that certain Irish companies are looking to invest in Myanmar.
The influence of the State in many Asian countries is much stronger than it is in many western countries. The difference between having strong bilateral relations and having an Irish embassy on the ground can be critical to those discussions, and ultimately to the trade results. It is not just within the world of business in Asia that Asian governments are so respected, it is that all governments are respected. In the past we have seen evidence that the presence of an Irish Minister visiting Asia has had significant implications for the relationship. I think Asia matters to Ireland because it is an opportunity to brand Ireland as an integral part of Europe, not simply a country on the periphery, and a trusted business partner for Asia. ASEAN is planning to commence an economic community in 2015, somewhat similar to the European Community but somewhat different in other ways. It would be very important to engage on the ground with that process. Equally, members may be aware that due to the global economic forum, certain initiatives have developed very well here. Sean O'Driscoll is leading a very good initiative on re-engagement with Japan to prioritise that relationship to further trade. Asia Matters is happy to support him in that work. The key opportunity sectors which we have identified in Asian markets are financial, legal and professional services, innovative technologies, life sciences and consumer products, food, drink and agritech, education, tourism and culture.
Indonesia is currently spending 20% of its annual budget on education. I am sure many governments would envy such a budget for education. Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the word, with a population of 242 million. It is putting a major focus on upskilling the nation and there are significant opportunities for Ireland in the education sector. Unfortunately, we do not have many Indonesian students in Ireland. There are still opportunities for us to engage with Indonesia. Equally, we do not have an embassy in Indonesia, which perhaps is an area to be reviewed in the future.
I recently met a senior official from Brunei Darussalam. Since January Brunei Darussalam assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN. We happened by chance to have a discussion on what he knew about Ireland. I found it interesting to hear his personal observation, but I have not verified it, that a few years back it was his understanding that hundreds of students from Brunei Darussalam were studying in Irish universities, but currently he was aware of only one student. Again, this is an area of opportunity which we could develop.
We in the organisation Asia Matters hold a very strong view on how to increase our understanding of Asia and develop trade opportunities. We know that one cannot separate trade from cultural understanding and respect. I have lived in Japan for a number of years. My wife is Japanese, both my children were born in Japan. We speak both Japanese and English at home. When one talks to members of the Asian community in Ireland, they will quickly tell you the people they deem respectful of their culture. To do business with them, it is important that government, business and institutional leaders learn the essence of being capable and respectful in Asia.
I understand that Riverdance is currently in China and the GAA is planning to send the All Stars to China this year. Culture is a good basis to build people-to-people relations. However, sometimes we Ireland, in spite of doing well in many areas, suffer from a lack of joined-up thinking. I went to see Riverdance when I lived in Tokyo and I remember the buzz among the Japanese people who were so excited by it. That excitement lasts for about a week which is the time that one should target advertisements for visiting Ireland such as book now for special trips to Ireland advertisements. Sometimes I think the right hand and the left hand, in other words the cultural side and the business side, are not always in sync. That is an area we need to look at.
Irish universities have very high service quality and high qualifications. Last year, however, when we brought a group of Irish ambassadors to Asia with a group of senior managers from Irish universities, one ambassador made a very interesting observation. He expressed the frustration in his city - I am respecting the Chatham House Rule - that in a three month period, four representatives from different Irish universities came to the same city essentially selling the same product. The chancellor of the most famous Asian university in that city politely called him to arrange a meeting at which the chancellor said that, with respect, they did not want more Irish universities visiting because they had made their top people available and there was no point in making these busy people available to hear the same story from different named universities. I lived in Japan for four years and I never recommended any Irish university per se because there was no unique course, of which I was aware, to recommend. I recommended the Royal College of Surgeons because it had a unique brand and I recommended the then National Microelectronics Research Centre, NMRC, in Cork, now the Tyndall National Institute, because one is sure of the quality and it is unique. There is some work to do in respect of the universities so that they agree to focus on selling different specialised courses in different markets rather than each selling everything.
In regard to the activities of Asia Matters, we have an advisory group that meets regularly. It is chaired by Mr. Alan Dukes, the former Irish Minister for Finance, and we are committed to working closely with key stakeholders in Irish, EU and Asian government and business sectors. We have a philosophy that we want to work in partnership with people. We are quite careful when we run Asia events in that we try to have as many Asian speakers as Irish and EU speakers. Last year we held an inaugural EU-Asia top economist round table in Dublin. The event went well and we had more than 250 top business people in Ireland in one place at one time listening to some very senior experts from Europe and Asia on Asian business.
That was so successful that we are running a second event during the Presidency. We are delighted that both An Taoiseach and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, will give keynote addresses at the event. A Chinese newspaper has agreed to partner with us for the event, which will ensure coverage in China. We are happy with that.
Things are developing very well. Last July we facilitated the second Asia Pacific-Ireland business forum in Croke Park. We worked in partnership with the GAA and the Irish chambers of commerce in Asia and all key business organisations in this country. Again, it is about building awareness and getting people on the ground in Asia to share their experiences, including their mistakes. We learn more from mistakes than from success with Irish companies wishing to do or expand business in Asia.
I compliment the GAA. It is a unique Irish organisation. There is no other organisation anywhere in the world that replicates it. It presents huge opportunities in terms of our cultural engagement with Asia. I do not see any reason in future for Etihad Airways not to show GAA games on flights to Asia.
At the end of February we are launching the first ever Ireland-Asia business yearbook in association with business and leadership. This is an attempt to try to put together a lot of the key statistics on what is happening in the relationship and having a lot of leading experts tell us where we are and where we could be going. In September of this year we are doing a third EU-Asia round table of top economists in Tokyo, Japan. I am delighted to say that we have reached agreement with key Japanese partners and media, as well as EU organisations, to partner on that. It is important that we go into Asia, engage with people and build relationships and partnerships.
In terms of suggestions to further Ireland’s trade with Asia, again, I reflect a need for joined-up thinking. It is important that, as a country, the Government and the business, education and tourism sectors start to create one simple message and that we stick to it. There seems to be a variance in messages at the moment. The brand of Ireland we sell is important. We should see Asia as the third opening for Ireland. In the past when we opened up to the US and got investment from there into this country, it not only created jobs and boosted the economy but also trained young Irish people to become professionals, and at a later stage many of them created their own companies. That level of engagement with the US or the EU should be replicated with Asia.
In order to do that we must update Ireland’s Asia strategy, perhaps for the next five to 15 years and to give an outline of what we want to achieve 15 years from now and then work backwards. The committee is aware that this country had its first Asia strategy in 1999 when the then Taoiseach went to China. There was some updating of the strategy in 2005 and subsequently but we still have some way to go. By comparison, last year Australia created a detailed Asia strategy. It is over 300 pages. Australia is a unique country in its own right. One could say geographically it is in Asia, although culturally it is perhaps in many ways western. It has unique expertise and partnership within Asia. That would be a good framework for what this country could do within our own right, going forward.
We should appoint a senior political administration figure for Asian relations, for example, a Minister of State, who could work for this country within the EU-Asia context and co-ordinate, engaging with all Departments and agencies so that one would have co-ordinated trade, education, tourism and cultural activities. We should all work to support the development of direct air links between Dublin and Asian capitals, commencing with Beijing. Evidently, those are purely commercial decisions. The Dublin Airport Authority is doing very good work on that, but when we look at other small countries in Europe that have direct connections to Asia, we must ask ourselves why we do not. Starting with Beijing, if we could create a direct air link with Beijing that is commercially viable, that would be a game changer in the relationship.
The committee has previously discussed the need to ensure a positive visa process for Chinese business visitors and tourists. I question the statistics in a United Kingdom article recently that indicated that France gets approximately ten times more Chinese visitors than the United Kingdom because the visa regime in the United Kingdom is deemed to be more harsh. When one talks to French Government people, there are no major negative repercussions regarding people overstaying their welcome or crimes being committed. We must examine the situation.
Sean O’Sullivan of Open Ireland has suggested that Ireland could be the first country in the world to issue a 90 day visa for all Chinese visitors. Clearly, there are practical considerations such as our joint passport zone with the United Kingdom, but the officials in the Department of Justice and Equality are aware of the need for a more positive visa process. Like all things, I believe those issues can be negotiated and worked through. We must create a three year forward plan for ministerial visits to key Asian cities and, reciprocally, seek to invite Asian peer leaders to visit Ireland. Very often we have visits from both sides which seem to be announced approximately two or three months in advance which, respectfully, do not give adequate time to prepare properly and maximise not only the partnership relations but the trade benefits and media coverage of such visits.
I say key Asian cities because I used to work in financial services in the regulatory compliance area. I am still friendly with that world and I have noticed that organisations such as HSBC and Citigroup no longer look at their global business as countries, they are looking at cities. They will plan their futures based on what are the 50 biggest cities in the world. We must incorporate that kind of thinking into our engagement with Asia and perhaps elsewhere.
Equally, in reverse, I am a Corkonian, so when Corkonians refer to the capital, it normally has a different meaning perhaps from my friends from Dublin. However, even as a Corkonian I admit that most visitors to any country tend to go through the capital city on the first visit. It is important that there is a strong sense of promoting Dublin. I am on the Dublin-Beijing twinning committee executive steering group. We are working on the initiative. The Dublin City Business Association and others such as the city council are involved. In bilateral relations it is important that the capital cities have a dual recognition and special promotion. Business tourism will filter from such a connection. When I lived in Japan I did some work with Japan National Tourism. It was interesting to note that up to 95% of first-time visitors went to Tokyo. Many of them went to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima or other destinations on the second visit. If one can get people to come at all, the capital city has an important focus.
If we are serious about engaging with Asia as business partners, we must show respect based on equality. It is important that we begin to employ Asian people in Departments, in particular the key Departments that engage with Asia. Even if it is in summary format we need regular Asian language content on Government websites and those of trade agencies. To be fair, one does not see that on sites in the United Kingdom or in the US but if we do that we will stand out in a positive way and Asian people will respect it.
We must multiply the twinning links, such as the developing Dublin-Beijing link, and the Cork-Shanghai link, which is established and successful, and create a national plan to twin Irish educational institutions and cultural bodies with Asian counterparts to enhance people-to-people relations. Within that context, for example, in December 2011, University College Cork received the best Confucius Institute in the world award in Beijing.
It was in competition with 388 Confucius Institutes so, being from Cork, I am delighted to say "Fair play". The point is we have the expertise which can be used to enhance Asian languages within the developing Irish system. I was somewhat shocked recently when I saw a Forfás report on future skills that stated that only 2% to 3% of Irish university courses have foreign language components, which is abysmal, to put it bluntly. There is an old adage that one buys in one's own language but sells in that of the customer. If we want to sell to the Chinese we must have people who can do so in Chinese. It is the same with Japanese, and with Bahasa in Indonesia. We must sell in their language. The Korean ambassador made a comment recently when I chaired an Asia conference in UCC. I asked him what single thing he would like that would improve our countries' relationship and his answer was very telling. He said he would like to meet Irish business people who can speak even basic Korean. I thanked him in appallingly bad Korean but at least I hope I failed with dignity. It is important that we get serious about language ability. In Ireland we have very good educational institutions.
If we are talking about game changers, I would refer to Ireland's Asia strategy for the coming five to 15 years. Why not be bold and ambitious? As John F. Kennedy said, why look at what is and ask why instead of looking at what is not and asking why not? Why not propose to have ten Irish universities in Asia in 15 years? At present, UCD is doing great work establishing a university in Beijing and DIT is creating a tourism college in Hainan. Why not have DCU create a university in Jakarta or UCC create one in Seoul, and so on? We have the expertise, and if Irish universities did this deliberately, placing one university in each country, they would not be competing with each other. This would help both the universities and Ireland Inc. Beyond that, in the legal and financial sectors, we have very good third level training institutions. The Institute of Bankers in Ireland is world class. I do not know whether I had good fortune or tragedy in doing some of its exams but it is world class in standard and resources. It needs to go beyond Ireland and there are opportunities.
I will add two points, if I may. Ireland is a small country with very limited resources. We know this and we also know that in many places in Asia where we might have four or five staff in an embassy, including the trade agency representatives, we are competing with countries that have 40 or 50 staff. We do well because of the quality of our people. Sometimes, however, we make mistakes. One such was when we dropped - unfortunately, in my opinion - the FÁS graduate programme in Japan that we had spent more than 20 years in building. This programme was envied by other countries because it gave us access to the global Japanese companies where young Irish graduates could work for two years. They learned Japanese and developed good person-to-person relations. The direct benefits to Ireland, a direct result of that programme, were that some Japanese companies opened in Ireland although prior to this they had never heard of us. As a result of their trust in these young people, their professionalism and personality, they came to look at Ireland and opened up here. When they did so, some of them sent their Irish graduates to open up the facility. Some of these graduates, who speak Japanese and understand the cultural decision making, started working with Irish trade agencies, offering unique expertise. The cost is very modest. The companies here who want to employ them can support the cost and will cover the accommodation, food, etc.
As members are aware, on 29 November the EU agreed to commence FTA negotiations with Japan which is very eager to engage with Europe. This is a good opportunity for us. I suggest Enterprise Ireland would have the capacity to do this programme very well.
People often ask me where in Asia Ireland should have embassies. We are all aware of the financial restraints on the State now but in due time I suggest Indonesia should be a priority. It is the fourth largest country in the world and is the home of the ASEAN secretariat which represents ten countries. It may interest members that 19 of the 27 EU countries have embassies in Jakarta. Members will be interested in some of the countries I call out: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Not only are there 19, but some are relatively small with economies far more modest than ours. The second country I would recommend is the Philippines which is host to the Asian Development Bank. It is my understanding that Ireland has contributed more than €30 million as a member of the Asian Development Bank but to date the number of contracts from this bank to Irish companies remains quite modest. There are good companies such as Project Management opening the doors but perhaps a presence on the ground would produce a different relationship. Finally, I would offer Thailand, as a global supply chain centre.
I found that fascinating. My involvement in the foreign affairs committee is mainly in the area of human rights rather than in trade and business but I was very interested in what Mr. Murray had to say. A gentleman spoke recently to the committee about trade with Arab countries. Does Mr. Murray know any organisation that seeks to build trade with such countries, or is this more of the lack of joined-up thinking? I was interested in what Mr. Murray observed about Irish universities. Perhaps he might outline this idea beyond the language aspect, where we fall behind, and might make a suggestion. I live not far from DCU and know what it has been trying to do in its language courses.
To return to my human rights hat, there are concerns with some countries in Asia that have appalling standards, and we are aware of abuses of human rights. I would like to see some recognition of this when we do business and trade with these countries. Perhaps these aspects could be of mutual benefit and complement each other.
Mr. Murray mentioned that four universities went to the same city. How can that be resolved? I am aware the different universities are all trying to deploy in different parts of China, for example. I presume they go on the basis of a contact. The usual way it happens is when somebody else has had success in a particular area. In my area, the Institute of Technology Tallaght is trying to open contacts with people in China. One of the difficulties often mentioned in regard to Chinese students is accommodation. I suppose it is the same for any group coming into a country. If accommodation can be supplied to a group of students, it is all much easier and parents are assured their children will be okay, the food will suit and there will be no cultural issues, depending on which part of the world the students come from.
In Tallaght there are apartment blocks which would be suitable for student accommodation. They are in NAMA. Joined-up thinking makes sense but the problem is that we are not very good at it within the Government or anywhere else. Mr. Murray outlined several steps. It would be useful if he set down one by one what he believes Ireland could do. It would also be useful in respect of his suggestions about where the embassies are based. My understanding is that we choose embassy locations not just on the basis of the market but where there are some members of the Irish diaspora and trade links. There is a list of factors. Maybe Jakarta and other cities in Asia do not fit those criteria.
Mr. Murray began by talking about the colonial contacts and how this has positive and negative aspects. It is a question of how to nurture that first contact. Much of what he said about language and cultural links makes sense. It is a matter of putting the package together and where we should bring it then.
Mr. Martin Murray:
Those questions could be dealt with very effectively if there was a senior political administrator co-ordinating all of this with the right resources to support him or her. As the Deputy says about joined-up thinking, we need someone who can engage with NAMA, who can deal with the demand on the education side and the accommodation and supply.
We do not have a significantly large Irish diaspora in Asia. In Japan there are approximately 1,000 Irish people and slightly more in China. I recently spoke in a personal capacity to a colleague from the US who suggested that the US should redirect some of its embassy locations in Europe to Asia because it is seriously refocusing on Asia. That would be important. One of the practical worries about building partnerships through educational exchange and trade is that some of our relationships were started by the missionaries even before Ireland had embassies there. Some missionaries did amazing educational work, training some of the current leaders, but many of them are elderly and their goodwill and relationships could pass away with them. I am not suggesting there should be a census per se but there should be some way of undertaking engagement with elders who are respected in those communities and happen to be Irish. The UK does many things well but particularly through the British Council it promotes British education and culture, in the UK and elsewhere. I have always felt that there is a gap in the Irish embassies where very good people work at promoting culture but we do not have an organisation which might amalgamate education in Ireland, and Culture Ireland. Ireland, almost uniquely, gets permission from almost all Asian governments to close off a main street and have a parade, on St. Patrick's Day. That and many other important events are organised by volunteers on the ground. There is a need for someone to co-ordinate that work.
I compliment Mr. Murray. His presentation was fascinating. The five points on which he has expanded are food for thought. In many ways it is frustrating to listen to him because, unfortunately, it is not easy to arrive at solutions to the problems he highlighted, something about which we have been speaking here. For example, because of financial constraints the Government has closed three embassies. The Tánaiste has said he would love to open embassies in appropriate locations. I agree with almost everything Mr. Murray has said. There is a great cultural link between Ireland and Philippines, not just through the Columban Fathers who provided education there and to whom the Filipino people are extremely grateful, but also through the Irish wife or lover of a famous poet-revolutionary who is honoured annually on a national holiday. The worry, as Mr. Murray quite rightly says, is that if we do not get in before the missionaries die, we will lose that connection when the economy is growing rapidly. We should try to capitalise on that while the missionaries are still there. I do not wish to dent his pride in his native city. It is a wonderful victory that University College Cork won the international competition for Confucius Institutes based in educational institutions, but just because an institution does not have a Confucius Institute does not mean that Chinese language courses are not being provided. The Dublin Institute of Technology has wonderfully proficient lecturers in its Chinese department.
It is hard to pose a question because I agree with practically everything that Mr. Murray has said. I am disappointed there might have been some place in the world where the universities are so competitive that they are pestering the city university. I have seen them operate in China when all the colleges and DIT were at an event in Beijing. They are doing reasonably well in China. Two scholarships are being offered in Vietnam to a man and a woman to come to Ireland to study catering and the hospitality industry and build tourism. Mr. Murray must be aware of the excellent report in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times which highlights the work being done, particularly by DIT. It was not an advertisement but a business feature. The Minister for Education and Skills will do a tour of China. It would be nice to think he might go to Hainan and get the local authority there to decide on which of the two sites on offer the campus will be developed.
How does Mr. Murray envisage the financial package available from the Chinese in conjunction with DIT working out in the long term? DIT might grant the certificates and oversee the courses. What is Mr. Murray's opinion of that type of relationship? Maybe it is mimicking the type of relationship that the College of Surgeons has with Bahrain. Would Mr. Murray see that as a way forward, educational partnerships engaging with the governments or local authorities and private capital, or does he think it is better to try to suck as many international students as possible into Ireland and the college structure that exists here?
I regret that I missed the start of Mr. Murray's presentation but I found the rest of it very interesting and stimulating. I have three short questions. Mr. Murray said that if we want to sell, we need to be able to speak the language. Are we taking that seriously enough and is the Department treating that concern with sufficient urgency?
How do we address this issue and is it a viable proposition? All that will be decided is whether it is viable. Mr. Murray said that the cultural and business sides are not always in sync, so what can we do better? I agree with him that the GAA is an amazing and unique organisation. Can we harness its resources in such a way as to bring business and culture more into sync? Perhaps Mr. Murray could comment on that.
Mr. Martin Murray:
In answer to Senator Mullins's first question on whether we take speaking Asian languages seriously, the answer is very simple: no, we do not - not at all. We have competent young people who learn the languages quickly. As the Senator knows, there is the Farmleigh fellowship programme, which is a great programme. Therefore we have the ability but we do not take it seriously at all. Those of us who speak an Asian language are well aware of how many others speak it because the numbers are so small.
As to whether the direct air link is viable, yes it is. The indications are that it is viable with Beijing but part of that logic is that Beijing is positioning itself as a hub for Asia. If one looks at the amount of traffic, including people who go to Australia, if certain of those numbers go via Beijing it could be very viable.
The third question was whether business and culture are in sync. If one is going to co-ordinate business and cultural activities - for example, when Riverdance has a programme, we promote tourism in Ireland - it goes back to having a senior administration figure who is the focal point to co-ordinate it.
We have representatives from Dublin and Cork but, coming from the mid-west region, I have to say that the international airport at Shannon could be used as a hub, with fifth freedom rights for Chinese or other airlines to go on to the United States as well. I wanted to get my little bit in there.
In defence of my colleagues, it is difficult to pose a question because the presentation was so comprehensive. I was interested to hear what Mr. Murray said about Indonesia because I was there last year. He is so right. It is a country with a huge population which is growing at a phenomenal rate and with an emerging middle class. It is absolutely ripe for trade with Ireland as an export destination.
The need for an Irish embassy there was brought home to me. I was visiting with six other European parliamentarians. We were invited to a dinner and each of their ambassadors was also invited. There were five or six ambassadors but no Irish person apart from myself. It is a lost opportunity when we do not have an embassy.
We hear about air connections but it is hard enough to get one to America. The critical mass to get a non-stop connection to Beijing is never going to happen. We do not even have a runway that would take such a plane to fly direct to Beijing. In fairness to the last government - to which I never give any credit - it did try to pursue the Middle East contact as a means to fly on to the Far East. We should be working on that rather than talking about planes going directly from Beijing to Dublin, which is not going to happen.
It was interesting to hear what Mr. Murray said about the visa issue. We have talked endlessly about visas to China, as well as how difficult they are to obtain and how expensive they are. There was quite an innovative pilot programme for the London Olympics last year whereby if one was coming to the games one could come to Ireland as well on the same visa. It was being tried out as something that we could carry forward, rather than having to get a British visa. The Chinese are not only going to come to Ireland, they will also come to Britain, so we could be an add-on.
Was Mr. Murray saying it is so difficult to get a British visa that we would be better off linking with the French visas? Is that what he is suggesting?
I regret I was not here for Mr. Murray's presentation because I was speaking in the Seanad. I met recently with Professor Hong in UCC and our discussion covered many of the issues that have been raised here, particularly the visa question. It gives one a sense of how difficult it is to negotiate with China or get a foothold there because there is such a cultural difference and it is vast. It is not enough just to learn a language, one also needs to learn the customs and how to communicate with the people there. I am aware that it takes a long time. Cork is twinned with Shanghai and I was very involved at that time. I apologise again for not having been here for Mr. Murray's contribution, but I will get the transcript which is on file.
Mr. Martin Murray:
I would like to answer Deputy Mitchell's question about Indonesia. Earlier this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a projected top 20 economies in the world. Indonesia is currently No. 16 on the scale of global economies. By 2030, PwC sees it becoming the 11th biggest economy in the world, and the eighth by 2050. Therefore, it is not about us, it is about the next generation, so we really do need to engage.
Mr. Martin Murray:
As regards the air link, I will leave that to the aviation authority who are the experts looking at the mathematics.
As regards visas, Chinese visitors in particular are critical to the integrity of retail centres all over Ireland. If one looks at Dublin, it is my understanding that in some cases it could be up to a third of the actual business. Whether they come or not could seriously affect the viability of small retailers in particular. It is critical that we address the issue. I suggest that some senior administration figure who can co-ordinate - and who has both the clout to deliver and the resources to support - could make a big impact.
Mr. Martin Murray:
The scale is enormous. One must put this kind of joined-up thinking, involving government, business and culture, in context. As the Chairman rightly said, the trade negotiations are set to engage seriously this spring. The Japanese are very keen to have a free trade agreement with Europe. Before the end of Ireland's EU Presidency, the Japanese Prime Minister will attend the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland and it is hoped he will come here also. If the Japanese Prime Minister does come here, the associated media coverage and goodwill is all good for Ireland. The same applied to the Chinese Vice-President, Xi Jinping, who was shown the reality of the green fields of Ireland and the country's beautiful nature. This is an enormously powerful image. All over the world, particularly in Asia, there is a huge, and correct, focus on food safety in which we have enormous expertise.
An Bord Bia is now doing a farm-to-fork traceability scheme in which there is huge potential. Similarly, one can see the work of the Irish Dairy Board with baby powder. The scale of the food sector is enormous. My Indonesian colleagues told me recently that Ireland is the only country at the moment from which Indonesia will accept EU beef. It is only Ireland, so the opportunities are enormous.
I expect the beef trade to Indonesia, which is worth approximately €20 million per annum, to open some time this year. Incidentally, I understand that in the event that the economy improves, there is strong interest in opening an embassy in Japan.
Last year, Ireland's trade with Asia increased by 17%, which included growth of 29% in our trade with China. We must be doing something right. What were the main factors behind this increase in trade with Asia?
Mr. Martin Murray:
There are third factors involved. First, the super rate of growth in China is great and floats all ships. Second, to be fair to Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and other State agencies, notwithstanding their small size and limited human and financial resources, they dedicate significant resources to the region. I understand approximately one third of Enterprise Ireland resources are being allocated to China, although I am open to correction on that. While our agencies may be small, their staff on the ground are good. I have considerable personal experience of the Irish agencies in Japan and they do what they do very well. Ireland is particularly good at building good personal relations. While the calibre of our people is a factor, the calibre and quality of the products and services coming out of Ireland are also factors. We have many smart people developing serious companies that will make a significant difference if they scale up appropriately.
The Irish operation in Tokyo is very good. I attended a working meeting in Japan, where we operate a version of the "Ireland House" concept, under which the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the embassy are located in one building. Our staff in Tokyo work extremely hard. A number of projects are in the pipeline this year and Japanese companies are also set to expand in this country. I pay tribute to the overseas staff of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. They are doing a marvellous job in the regions where I have met them. Their work, as well as the visit of the Chinese Vice-President, Xi Jinping, to Ireland and the Taoiseach's visit to China, have all contributed to the increase in trade. We have had a number of ministerial trade missions to Asia and more are required.
Does Mr. Murray have a comment or view on the major Chinese project planned for Athlone, for which planning permission has been obtained? Will it ever see the light of day? Is Athlone an appropriate location for such a project? Perhaps Mr. Murray does not wish to comment on the matter.
Mr. Martin Murray:
May I offer the proviso that I do not have any detailed expertise of the project, although I have some knowledge of it. Irrespective of whether the project proceeds as envisaged, there are significant numbers of Chinese industrialist groups and if the current group does not proceed, another group could potentially be encouraged to invest in Ireland. In the broader sense, I do not have sufficient knowledge to comment on the matter.
I thank Mr. Murray for coming before the joint committee for this useful and interesting discussion and presentation on Asia. I ask him to keep the committee informed of the activities of Asia Matters in promoting trade with Asia. Asia Matters and other organisations are important for trade promotion. The benefits of their work are visible in the increase in business between Asian companies and Ireland and Irish companies exporting to Asia. The process works both ways. I wish Mr. Murray well in his work to enhance trade and relations between Ireland and Asia. I hope we will be able to keep the joint committee informed of his organisation's work in trade promotion.