Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Trade between Ireland and ASEAN Countries (Resumed): Asia Matters
We welcome Mr. Martin Murray, executive director, and Ms Stephanie FitzGerald-Smith, director of marketing and communications from Asia Matters, to discuss Ireland's trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, countries. We have already held meetings with other stakeholders in connection with the report we are putting together on trade with the ASEAN region and the potential that exists for trade with that region which has a population of over 600 million. We will hear Mr. Murray's opening statement and then take questions from the members.
I remind members, witnesses and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure that their mobile telephones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as even on silent mode they cause interference with the recording equipment. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Mr. Martin Murray:
I will go through the briefing document which we have sent to the committee and my colleague and I will then be happy to answer any questions from the members.
The briefing dealt with expanding Ireland’s trade with ASEAN. Our focus today will be on suggested solutions to clear problems that exist in Ireland’s engagement with ASEAN. We welcome the opportunity to brief the committee in its deliberations on expanding Ireland’s trade with ASEAN.
Although starting from a low base, there is enormous market potential for Ireland in the key global economic growth region of Asia. Although Europe and the US are now understandably the key priority markets, the Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia will double its share of global GDP to 52% by 2050. Currently, a third of global wealth and two thirds of the global population are in Asia. ASEAN alone has a combined population of 625 million, 8.8% of the world’s population, with 3.49% in Indonesia alone. Ireland needs to establish a strong presence in Asia and ASEAN for the future integrity of the Irish economy.
Asia Matters would like to advise the committee on the significant progress made since last presenting to the committee on 30 January 2013 and update on recommendations to expand trade with the broader Asia region with a specific focus on ASEAN. Asia Matters was founded to fulfil the need for Ireland to have a dedicated Asia institute focused on business. It works collectively for the national good as part of team Ireland with all key stakeholders. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has commended the work of Asia Matters as a valuable asset for Ireland in developing dynamic business links and informed understanding between Asia and Ireland.
Asia Matters is a not-for-profit, non-political, economic institute based in Dublin, dedicated to developing Ireland-Asia business relations and acting as an articulate voice registering Irish public policy within an EU-Asia context. As an educational think tank, Asia Matters works in close partnership with Government and business and academic stakeholders in Ireland, the EU and across Asia. The chairman is Alan Dukes, former Irish Minister for Finance, and I am the executive director. Separate to Asia Matters, I have the privilege of being the honorary consul of the Republic of Indonesia in Ireland.
Asia Matters has shown a strong commitment to ASEAN since its foundation and was officially launched 10 May 2012 in the embassy of the Philippines in Dublin. With a country focus on ASEAN+5, which are China, Japan, Korea, India and Mongolia, Asia Matters has good working relations with the ten ASEAN countries, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, although clearly these countries would have different priority rankings for Irish trade subject to sectors of interest.
Asia Matters provides a vital role in supporting Ireland by facilitating the development of enhanced partnership by Irish interests in EU-Asia business and cultural relations through engaging with a high-level Asian peer community in business, government and academic sectors. As Ireland develops its partnership engagement with Asia, Asia Matters works with Irish diplomatic missions and business development agencies to raise awareness of the vast opportunities in key Asian markets. Asia Matters delivers essential business learning for key stakeholders through briefings, conferences, policy research and publications. To date, it has organised 51 briefings, 22 conferences and three Ireland-Asia business yearbooks, the annual book of reference for Asia-Ireland trade relations. The recent edition, of which members have a hard copy, includes commentary from the Taoiseach and five Irish Government Ministers, along with profiles of the ten ASEAN countries, reflecting collective partnership and good working relations.
The year 2014 was a pivotal one for the work of the institute. Asia Matters commissioned a report on unlocking Asia's trade potential for Ireland with economist Marc Coleman, which provides a benchmark for Ireland's Asia engagement and maps opportunities for future trade and investment. This report outlines the need to: create a much broader awareness of brand Ireland in targeted sectors in key Asian markets; focus our market engagement in five sectors where Ireland has competitive advantage, namely, food and agritech, education and skills, tourism, ICT and international financial services; promote Ireland as the Asian business valley for Europe and expand the role of existing multinational companies to take on Asia responsibilities; comprehensively update our Asia trade strategy through collective stakeholder engagement to maximise the business potential of key relations; and build Asia competencies through educational programmes and graduate and young professional placements. It is very unfortunate that the excellent Irish FÁS programme in Japan and the Farmleigh fellowship programmes based in Singapore have now ceased.
At EU level, Asia Matters took its signature EU-Asia top economist round table series, TERT, to Beijing for the first time and ran its second in the series in Tokyo. The events reached an audience of over 500 key delegates and featured CEO-level speakers from top companies such as Airbus, Nokia, People's Bank of China, BASF, BNP Paribas, Nissan and Philips. Asia Matters has now completed six successful TERTs, establishing Ireland as a key player in EU-Asia trade relations. The year of the sheep, 2015, looks set to be a landmark year for Ireland's engagement with its partners across Asia. On the domestic front, Ireland is projected to be the fastest growing economy in the EU following years of contraction. This growth will breed positivity internally and drive Ireland's positive brand in external markets. The year began on a positive note for Ireland's Asia engagement with the conference, Global Island: Ireland's Foreign Policy for a Changing World, in Dublin Castle on 12-14 January. On the invitation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Asia Matters took part in the forum and contributed our views and feedback from our network on upping Ireland's engagement with Asia. Again, key themes echoed those highlighted by Asia Matters in our recent economic report, namely, education and global talent, food and agritech, tourism, ICT and international financial services. The event was an excellent initiative allowing Government, business and civil society stakeholders to discuss possible paths forward to progress Ireland-Asia engagement.
The team at Asia Matters spends a third of the year in Asia as we deem it very important to be in Asia and to keep up to date with what is happening on the ground with local partners. To date in 2015 the team has visited seven ASEAN cities from a total of 13 Asian cities, working closely with Irish diplomatic missions and team Ireland on the ground. Asia Matters looks forward to continuing its role in boosting Ireland-Asia engagement in 2015 through its flagship Asia Business Week Ireland and other events and publications. The 2015 edition of Asia Business Week Ireland will take place in July and will focus on the five key areas of growth. Reflecting the collective team Ireland approach, there are six Irish Government Ministers, one European Commissioner and 30 Government agencies and business organisations participating. In relation to ASEAN, a major development for 2015 is the ASEAN Economic Community, AEC, which is due to come into force under Malaysia’s chairmanship. Significantly, the EU and ASEAN have announced a resumption of their FTA talks with stocktaking planned for late 2015. Following a seventh TERT in Dublin in July and an eighth TERT in Tokyo in November, Asia Matters plans to bring its signature EU-Asia TERT series to ASEAN in 2016 to continue to brand Ireland as an integral part of Europe and a trusted business partner for Asia.
I will move on to an update on recommendations made to this committee on 30 January 2013, taking into account developments in the past two years. We are making ten recommendations. One is to seek creative ways to overcome resource challenges to bridge the competitive gap to drive Irish business with Asia. Ireland has started its engagement with Asia and ASEAN relatively late compared with other countries. For cultural and geographical reasons, Ireland has largely no historical relations with Asia, although equally no colonial baggage. The shining light in the relationship is the number of Irish in religious orders who went to Asia as educators, contributing to some of the finest academic institutions and educating some of the most talented young people in Asia, a number of whom have gone on to assume leadership roles within their countries.
Asia is only now beginning to feature on the Irish business radar. The Irish Government is taking the lead in developing relations and yet compared to competitors, Ireland has limited presence and resources, so it is critical to seek creative ways, such as public private partnerships, to overcome resource and other challenges to bridge this competitive gap to drive Irish business with Asia. A good example of this collective partnership was in 2012, when the APIBF business directory was produced In Ireland by myself and Mr. Peter Ryan, now Ireland's consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This was an initiative of the Ireland-Japan Chamber of Commerce, a good example of both sides working together for the greater good. Within ASEAN, Ireland is primarily concentrating its resources on Singapore, followed by Malaysia. From this solid foundation, enhanced by the new missions in Indonesia and Thailand, we need to expand a greater, targeted regional presence to capitalise on the growing opportunities in Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.
There could be a valuable role for team Ireland graduates or young professionals in Asia programmes, as recommended in the Asia Matters economic report of October 2014.
As we have seen on the ground, team Ireland in Asia works best when all agency and chamber representation is located in one building, the same location as the Embassy of Ireland, normally called Ireland House, with the Irish ambassador leading the team. Tokyo is a good example of how this is done effectively. Ireland needs to find a cost-effective and time-effective way to create a local presence to show that we are serious and drive business for Ireland. For example, the Indonesian Government has allocated 20% of its annual budget to education. Indonesia is sending students to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom but not Ireland. If we were to allocate an education attaché to the Irish Embassy in Jakarta, he or she could fully focus on closing off a government to government MOU on education which would lead to significant numbers of Indonesian students coming to Ireland. Such an appointment could involve secondment from a Department, Government agency or educational institution and-or could be co-funded or fully funded by the education sector in Ireland. Irish education experts in Asia with clear competence could also be ideal candidates to fill the role.
Our second recommendation is to open an Irish Embassy in Manila and encourage ASEAN countries to open an embassy in Dublin. In the 2013 briefing Asia Matters recommended opening new diplomatic missions in Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila. It is significant that the new missions in Jakarta and Bangkok, led by very senior Irish diplomats, are already creating a very positive impact on the ground as focal points for Ireland which will drive business development. It is clear that in the near future both Indonesia and Thailand plan to reciprocally open embassies in Ireland, creating a virtuous circle which will encourage more ASEAN countries to open an embassy in Ireland. There is only one ASEAN embassy in Dublin, that of Malaysia. It is clear that a London-based embassy responsible for Ireland, in addition to the United Kingdom, is stretched to commit the time and resources that it would wish to allocate to Ireland. While we work very closely with the ASEAN ambassadors in London - they are sincerely committed to Ireland - it is a question of time and resources. Vietnam is an example of a country that has committed significant time and resources to Ireland. With our effective ambassador on the ground, we now have a very positive situation where Vietnam has moved from an aid to a trade country relationship.
It is now an important priority to open an embassy in Manila because of the importance of the Philippines and the need for local engagement with the Asian Development Bank to ensure Ireland receives its share of ADB contracts. I recently visited the ADB in Manila and came across a particular opportunity for Ireland in the food and agri-tech sector. It was a contract valued at US$2 million and the person in charge was not aware of Ireland's expertise in the food and agri-tech sector. This is the kind of opportunity local people on the ground can unearth. Obviously, I reported back to the relevant agencies in Ireland.
The third recommendation is to update Ireland’s Asia strategy for the next five to 15 years, with specific plans for the next three to five years through collective engagement with key stakeholders in Ireland and Asia. The original Asia trade strategy 1999 to 2009 created an excellent focus. Although Asia has been incorporated into Irish Government reports and agency strategies, with a number of key bilateral agreements and economic forums, there is a need for a comprehensive updated national Asia trade strategy.
The fourth recommendation is to appoint a senior political-administration figure to co-ordinate a national Asia trade strategy. In 2013 Asia Matters made this recommendation to the committee. This political-administration figure, for example, a Minister of State, could work for Ireland within the EU-Asia context and engage with all Departments, Government agencies and key external stakeholders to co-ordinate trade, education, tourism and cultural activities. The highly impressive work of the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, who has special responsibility for international banking, including the IFSC, and his leadership in creating the IFS strategy 2020, with a clear objective to create 10,000 further jobs in Ireland's financial services sector, is an excellent role model in this regard.
The fifth recommendation is to support the development of direct air links between Dublin and Asian capitals. Regarding ASEAN, Bangkok is the obvious choice to progress, with almost 70,000 Irish visitors flying there annually. There are no direct flights from Dublin to Asia. By comparison - we understand the geography involved - there are more than 20 direct flights from Helsinki to Asia weekly. Finnair started its first direct flights to Japan in 1983. Competitively, we have a job of work to do.
The sixth recommendation is to move online to ensure a positive visa process for ASEAN business visitors and tourists. The visa process is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. While, of course, security protocols must be respected in terms of who is approved to enter Ireland, scanned passports and other e-friendly processes should be enhanced for bona fide applicants, particularly when applying from other countries or countries within which the physical distance is substantial.
The seventh recommendation is to create a three year forward plan of ministerial visits to key ASEAN cities and reciprocally seek to invite targeted ASEAN peer leaders to visit Ireland. The priority focus, understandably, is on China, with a limited number of high level visits to or from ASEAN countries. As with all of Asia, government is highly respected and enhanced visits by senior Irish figures would be a clear driver of business partnership opportunities. Forward planning would allow maximisation of the business impact and create a multiplier effect. For example, when in Singapore, a senior official could visit the Asia Europe Foundation, of which Ireland is a member. The foundation is very active in the educational and cultural spheres. Given how embedded Japanese business is across ASEAN countries and the pending role of the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, in which ASEAN countries will be a key focus, third party country visits by Ministers could also be maximised to explore how Ireland could partner with these countries in ASEAN markets.
The eighth recommendation is to follow the lead of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland by employing Asian staff in key Departments. Chinese and Japanese staff in these Irish agencies play a very valuable role. Within the cost limitations and resource structures, there is an opportunity to have some fixed-term exchanges with intern staff from peer agencies in Asian countries. This could greatly enhance the understanding of ASEAN countries.
The ninth recommendation is to create ASEAN language content on websites for Departments and trade agencies. This follows the logic of internships and exchanges with peiople from ASEAN countries. I am sure members are familiar with the expression “you buy in your own language; you sell in the customer’s language”. If we are serious about selling to ASEAN countries, we must have content in their languages. Tourism would be an obvious focus.
The tenth and final recommendation is to create multiple friendship agreements between cities, educational institutions and cultural bodies between Ireland and ASEAN countries. Given the resource limitations, the objective is to create friendship agreements rather than twinning links around specific projects - they could be short-term - such as a Dublin-Bangkok direct flight and to create a national plan to twin Irish educational institutions and cultural bodies with Asian counterparts to enhance people to people relations. This should be time fixed and target focused. In the education sector it is obvious that educational institutions are essentially selling the same products within the same markets.
Ireland needs to appoint a senior figure such as a Minister of State to consult and create an updated Asia trade strategy until 2020 which would co-ordinate the work of Government and non-Government stakeholders in a collective manner to overcome resource challenges in order that team Ireland can work better together on clear deliverables in key markets to bridge the competitive gap in Asia and essentially punch above our weight. As the Irish expression goes, ní neart go cur le chéile - there is no strength without unity.
I compliment Mr. Murray on his organisation. Many presentations and submissions are made to us and this might be the third time we have addressed this topic. I would not have a reputation for patronising people but it is probably one of the best and most focused presentations we have had, with clear recommendations and clear arguments underpinning them.
I have a few questions on the presentation. I note that Mr. Murray mentions ASEAN+5. I also note that recently Taiwan made overtures about having greater direct links to Ireland. I wonder why it would be excluded from Asia Matters' particular countries of remit. Would Mr. Murray have a view on that? I am aware there are some political sensitivities with China. Mr. Murray might like to comment on it?
I was interested to hear Mr. Murray comment that the FÁS programme in Japan and a fellowship programme which ceased. Could he give a little more information the benefits of those and the reasons, in his understanding, they were discontinued?
We had a brand Ireland debate previously with a number of people. What is the best way for us to harness an awareness and create a brand for Ireland? This is a small island and sometimes we forget that. Maybe we have influence beyond our size. In many parts of Asia, one finds that not a lot is known about Ireland once one starts talking to the populace generally but there seems to be a connection with our music, musicians and bands. I presume those who follow sport would have some knowledge of our sports personnel, particularly the fact that we are prominent in the golf arena. I note Riverdance created quite an impact. I wonder how can the State utilise the awareness of that, and achieve an attachment to Ireland, because sometimes the link with Ireland is not known to those who are aware of these particular bands or individuals.
Is language an issue? Mr. Murray mentioned competencies in the educational programme and he also mentioned culture.
Mr. Murray raised in the recommendations what we would call the one-stop-shop of having an Ireland building, and he mentioned Japan as being a good example in that regard. Has he had discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in this regard and what responses is he getting because this strikes me as a good recommendation that we should be following up with the Department? Obviously, there are synergies to be achieved from having staff working together where the symbiosis is greater than the individual attentions. All Mr. Murray's recommendations have a great deal of merit and are ones we should be following up.
Mr. Murray mentioned the food and agritech sectors. It is a little extraordinary in that it is one of our strong sectors. When a committee visited Singapore recently, we became aware of companies, particularly the Kerry Group, which have an involvement in Malaysia. It is significant that the Asian Development Bank, ADB, was unaware of our food and agritech expertise and, indeed, our leadership in that area. Mr. Murray reported back, I presume, to the Department. I would be interested to hear if the Department came back to him and what follow up was given in that regard.
Mr. Murray mentioned a move to online to ensure a positive visa process for ASEAN business visitors and tourists. We have heard this from a number of sources, even those who have come in from some of those countries. At this stage, should we join Schengen, forget about any inhibitions with Britain and let Britain do what it wants but act independently? Is it to our serious disadvantage from both tourist and business points of view that we are not part of Schengen?
I support absolutely the comments of the previous speaker, with whom I do not always agree on many issues, about Mr. Martin Murray's dedication and leadership in developing relations between the Asian countries and the Republic of Ireland. I am half-embarrassed but must apologise that I will not be here to go to his conference in July. However, I am conscious of the number of conferences he organises. I am also conscious that he stands out as a representative of this country working in a phenomenally productive way with all of the agencies. I concur with Senator Walsh's congratulations on Mr. Murray's presentation as it is comprehensive and well-thought out. It is a document that we can literally ratify and pass on to the various Departments, including the Departments of Education and Skills, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I thank Mr. Murray's organisation for doing such a professional job.
I will pick up some of the points Mr. Murray made that rankle with me. We have dealt with education on quite a number of occasions and questions have been asked about the Irish higher educational structures, whether they are competing and whether there is a single umbrella organisation that can sell Ireland Inc.'s incredibly good and valuable educational standards to Asian students. I understand from a previous presentation that there was a course, either run in Cork or Galway, which ended. It was suggested that the Higher Education Authority had pulled the plug. I made some inquiries but did not get any answers. Maybe Mr. Murray could brief us, if he is familiar with whatever that course was. It was to do with Asian matters.
It is a fact, as Mr. Murray states, that religious orders, such as Columban Fathers, have created an educational system in some of these Asian countries that is the envy of many countries in the world. Having visited Korea, one of the few countries in that region I have visited, I am aware that the Columban Fathers are recognised there as having created the finest educational structures and institutions for the people of Korea. That clearly indicates strong potential linkages not only between the religious but between those with a history of the involvement of the Columban Fathers and educational institutions in Ireland, which are the source of the Columban Fathers' work in Korea. I fully accept the point that we must capitalise on these positive relationships.
I am familiar with Brazil. The Brazilian Government, for example, has sanctioned a provision by which Ireland will benefit from 1,000 higher education students under the Science without Borders programme. Somebody has collectively negotiated with the Brazilians for 1,000 high-level students to come to Ireland under a programme. I note other countries do it. For example, Saudi Arabia's King Salman sends students abroad. Where are we missing out in Asia? My understanding is that there are great working relationships, for example, between Malaysian students and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on St. Stephen's Green. There seem to be strong relations with some Asian countries. I suspect many of these students, who are mainly women, come from Malaysia. Mr. Murray might tell me whether that is another area we can develop in the health field.
Does Asia Matters carry out comparisons between the richest and poorest countries? I am very attached to Laos. I have never been there but I have been to Vietnam. I understand that a programme was initiated between the Dublin Institute of Technology and Laos, which is a very poor country and needs this infrastructure. The relationship concerned the hospitality industry, catering, the management of hotels and tourism. This is an area in which we are supreme leaders. Through the grapevine, I understand that, tragically, that deal is collapsing or the Laotian Government is not pushing it as well as it could. Is there any truth in that? Could it be saved? Laos needs this relationship with Ireland. It clearly cannot compete in tourism, etc., even though it has the potential to compete with neighbouring countries like Vietnam, which is progressing at a magnificent rate. We entertained very high-ranking Vietnamese ministers who came to Ireland to study the free trade zone in Shannon and other areas of governance, so we have some relationships there.
How does Asia Matters deal with the difficulties we experience because of the language issue? Our educational institutions are not catering adequately in terms of educating students in the languages required. Internships or relationships were mentioned. I have had a very happy experience with Dublin City Council, which is twinned with Beijing. The mayor's office in Beijing sent three people, two women and a man, to Dublin City Council for a six-month internship. They worked in relevant areas. I am not sure whether Dublin City Council reciprocated. It was a very clear insight into the work that these three people from the mayor's office were able to do. The point that we should extend these internship relationships to a vast range of other public bodies and governmental institutions is very well taken.
I congratulate the witnesses on a very good report and what seem like very practical recommendations, of which there are 12. It is the first time I have heard them. Deputy Crowe would have been here when the witnesses made a previous presentation. As they are so practical, why has there been a delay in implementing them? If one goes through each of the points, one sees that there is a logic behind each one. In some ways, there is a value-for-money element outlined in the case made by the witnesses without putting a cost on them. Is Asia Matters experiencing bureaucratic or political delay or is it just that sometimes on an international field, things move slowly?
I know of some students who have benefitted from educational exchanges. I have met them here and abroad. I know there is concern among some people who travel to Ireland given the bad reputation of foreign language schools. In some ways, some of the countries are loath to make any new arrangements or agreements with universities until we sort out our own issues around the standardisation of such schools and some type of protection and insurance policy to protect those who are then left high and dry. It is then that the type of counsellor service recommended by the witnesses is called on to deliver and sometimes send students who have paid a fortune to get here back home again. That is one of the other questions I have. One of the best recommendations not just in terms of the area the witnesses are concerned with but other areas as well is the experience people have when they come to Ireland. If somebody has a good experience, they will go back to their home country and brag about it. If they have a bad experience, it can do untold damage that sometimes takes years to correct. How can we enhance the experience of students and business people from that region who arrive in Ireland because that is a challenge in itself?
The fact that we do not have direct flights were was mentioned. Since last week, or the week before, we no longer control Aer Lingus, but that is a different matter. Quite a number of flights stop over. A significant amount of Irish emigrants and tourists travel to Australia and New Zealand. How do we get the people who are travelling that far to stop over in ASEAN countries rather than Abu Dhabi? I think I stopped over in Kuala Lumpur many years ago and enjoyed the experience.
A significant number of Filipinos live in Ireland and work in our health system. They send money home because the Philippines is a very poor country. How do we capitalise on that and how do they capitalise on it? Do the witnesses see any increase or major progress we can achieve in this regard?
I apologise for my absence for a short period of time. I thank the witnesses for appearing before us this morning and compliment them on their promotion of business with ASEAN countries. One only has to glance at that publication to realise fully the huge potential that exists in terms of population. India and China have a combined population of 2.5 billion - not million but billion. They are increasing productivity and GDP and are increasing in global importance. There are huge opportunities that have already been availed of but there are certainly many more opportunities.
The Irish trailblazers are an interesting example. Japan has a large population of 125 million people. Its GDPper capita is €30,000, which is almost comparable to our standards. Companies like Glen Dimplex which blazed a trail there when it was not fashionable to do so are examples to many more companies throughout this country because it shows what can be done if the application, willingness, dedication and perseverance is there. Glen Dimplex has done that very successfully not only in Japan but all over the globe. It has 10,000 employees worldwide. I was at a presentation last week that may have been attended by the Chairman when the former chief executive was given an award. If one could identify a promo that was more positive for a country than that presented by Glen Dimplex on that occasion, I have yet to see it. It was the most impressive example I have ever seen in terms of promoting the country, product and business acumen of Irish entrepreneurs and emphasising the humble beginnings of a company that started in a garage in County Louth and reached international standards in a way that is hugely impressive. I ask that every effort be made to build on the contacts that have already been made to ensure that every Irish company can gain a foothold in those markets.
That would be hugely beneficial to us as a nation in our quest to achieve full employment. Full employment may have been a myth some years ago, but when we get our business structures properly organised and the economy growing sustainably over a period of time, it will follow, as will a dramatic increase in the population, all of which will be of huge economic benefit.
I apologise for being late, but I have read the briefing. I was struck by the disparity between a country like Laos and somewhere like Singapore. I am trying to get my head around including all of that great variety within a single agreement. The presentation referred to the three pillars of security, economics and socio-cultural matters. I wonder where human rights comes into it. Where are due diligence, labour rights and labour laws? In some of the countries in question there are very severe human rights abuses, particularly of women and children. I refer, in particular, to the Philippines and Myanmar. We see great numbers of children working at ages when they should not be. It is terrible abuse. Where is the voice of Asia Matters on these issues? I may have missed it in reading the briefing, but where is the reference to Taiwan? Is it included somewhere? My other issue concerns Sri Lanka, a country in which, again, there are significant human rights abuses. Is it worth mentioning North Korea? Is there even a slight engagement or any way that what is happening might lead to an opening up in that regard?
I apologise for being delayed at an earlier meeting, which is why my colleague, Senator Jim Walsh, led off.
I agree with the contributions made on the excellence of the presentation and its focus. I refer to the education issue. Asia Matters asks if the appointment of an Irish education attaché would be useful. It is a useful concept. During the years different embassies in different countries have had an agriculture or an industry attaché, as appropriate to the relevant country. Given the huge potential for the provision of educational services and students coming to the country, it is an area that merits detailed consideration.
Senator Jim Walsh referred to the "brand Ireland" concept. At times we can delude ourselves about the level of knowledge in some countries about our presence and particular strengths in manufacturing and exports. In that context, I said during earlier presentations that we needed to sell the entire island of Ireland as a single entity. It is farcical if there is competition between IDA Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland. People in these markets may know about Ireland, but they will certainly not know about the context of Northern Ireland and the Republic. On that subject, the work of Asia Matters seems to be based on our own state as such, but that is far from being a criticism of the organisation. I see that it has held events in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere in the South. Is there a Northern Ireland or an all-Ireland dimension to the organisation? If not, I would love to see Asia Matters push out the boundaries to change its architecture to embrace an all-Ireland context. At times, non-governmental organisations are focused and based on the configuration of statutory agencies, but sometimes we need them to push out the boundaries. They might achieve things more quickly than state-to-state or statutory agencies, which are very proprietorial. I hope Asia Matters in its work focuses on an all-Ireland context. I always tell the statutory agencies that come before the joint committee that the State will not lose if there is the utmost co-operation between Invest Northern Ireland and the Department of Investment, Trade and Enterprise in Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and statutory agencies here, on the other. If inward investment comes to Northern Ireland, it is beneficial to the South. Similarly, foreign direct investment in the South is beneficial to all of Ireland. If we can grow export markets that companies in Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland can access, it will be beneficial to the State. When I say I hope Asia Matters in its work focuses on an all-Ireland context, it is not a criticism but a suggestion.
Mr. Martin Murray:
I appreciate the input of members. I will go through the questions systematically and as quickly as I can. If I may, I will leave the "brand Ireland" concept to my colleague, Ms Stephanie FitzGerald-Smith, our director of marketing and communications, who has significant expertise in the matter.
I thank Senator Jim Walsh for his positive comments. He mentioned the clarity of the recommendations, which was our purpose. We know committee members are busy, as is everyone else.
We mention Taiwan in our economic report, albeit in a small summary context on page 57. Like everyone else, we are limited by resources and time, but we have nothing but goodwill towards Taiwan and its people. We see it as a very good trading partner for Ireland. As Asia Matters is non-political, we do not get involved in politics. Certainly, we have had discussions with Taiwanese representatives here on how we can conduct business events together. We are very open to this. We have a very open mind and, as I say, our focus is on trade, not politics.
I was asked about FÁS and Farmleigh. Over 30 years ago Ireland created an amazing programme in Japan which was called the "FÁS graduate programme" whereby young engineers from Ireland were funded by the State on placements for two years in the best global Japanese companies in the world, including Mitsubishi and Panasonic. While there, they learned the language and about the culture and the Japanese way of doing business. A very good example of the benefits, apart from the networks, access and market understanding, is Mr. Greg Timmons, a programme graduate and now CEO of Takeda Ireland, which has two plants here. He went into the company, learned how it worked and developed good relationships. He is a very smart, capable and professional person and they were so impressed by the calibre of Irish graduates that they asked him if he could open a company here. He was so successful that they opened a second. It is a great tribute to Ireland and the quality of our education, as well as personally to Mr. Timmons, that the second plant manufactures tablets and medical products for the Japanese market. It is done not from within Japan but from with Ireland such is the trust in the calibre of the leadership and workforce here. It is a very good example, but, unfortunately, the programme closed after big issues arose with FÁS. The baby was thrown out with the bath water, which was a terrible mistake. We had spent over 20 years developing relations with the big Japanese companies by sending Irish graduates. When I lived in Japan, the programme was the envy of the USA and all other European countries. They all wanted to know how we had done it, yet we closed it down. It was very damaging to the relationship and resurrecting would take time and effort and regard for Japan's sensitivity. There is a certain way to do it with the Japanese, but closing the programme in that way was a big mistake.
Mr. Martin Murray:
About three or four years ago, when FÁS was terminated as an entity.
I was also asked about Farmleigh. It was a very good education programme within UCC which was followed up in Singapore. As to why it finished, we hear different reasons, but the original concept was that Irish graduates would be trained in Ireland, learn language skills, go to Singapore and work in companies there. In reality, they ended up working primarily with Irish companies in Singapore, although that had its own advantages.
The problem, if my understanding is correct, arose from the Singapore side not buying into scheme. It was assumed large numbers of Singapore graduates would come here but, in reality, they wanted to go to Harvard or Oxford. There were some structural issues in terms of how the programme was all put together. Nevertheless, it has produced a number of talented Irish graduates in the region.
My colleague will deal with the questions on the brand Ireland concept.
It was noted that we are a small island and there needs to be a more joined-up approach. I absolutely agree. A key conclusion of the Dublin Castle discussions with the Irish heads of mission was the need for everybody to work together to create the critical momentum where we do things of significance. Asia Business Week Ireland is an example of this, with a lot of things happening at the same time. Senator Walsh pointed out that for many Asian people, there is a connection with music when it comes to their perception of Ireland. That certainly is an avenue to explore. It is another area with potential for co-operation. This year, we are staging an Asia fashion event in Ireland to reciprocally show Ireland's creativity and expertise in this sphere. The fashion world is very important.
Reference was made to the Riverdance theatrical production, which is made up of very talented people. It is a highly successful commercial organisation with enormous goodwill towards Ireland. I understand the Riverdance production team plans its programme a long time in advance. Perhaps Tourism Ireland might work with the people involved to plan its own promotion programme to coincide with the staging of the show in different cities. I recall coming out of the Riverdance production in Tokyo alongside thousands of happy Japanese people and thinking this would be the perfect time for somebody to be giving out brochures in Japanese telling them all about Ireland. It is all about that type of joined-up thinking and working together.
I will ask Ms FitzGerald-Smith to respond to the questions about language barriers and so on. She has fluency in Mandarin and I am fluent in Japanese. She is probably better able to comment on language as an issue.
We have seen how the one-stop-shop or Ireland House idea works on the ground. In Japan and Korea, for example, it has been very effective. With the greatest respect, however, some Asian cities are so large and the traffic issues so difficult that the time taken simply to get from one place to another reduces the impact of having VIPs coming to meet the ambassador and bringing everybody together.
I, too, was surprised that the individual referred to in the Asian Development Bank was clearly not aware of Ireland's food and agritech expertise. Perhaps it points to how busy we are between the inbox and work schedules and unless we make a focused effort of targeted promotion to key people, we will not get the recognition we are seeking. In the case of this particular individual, I did not really ask anything about it for fear of causing that person embarrassment. After all, we cannot expect him or her to know all about us. Perhaps that person was newly appointed to the role and had only recently assumed responsibility in matters to do with agriculture. Ireland's membership of the Asian Development Bank is essentially run through the Department of Finance, so I reported the matter to the key people, as well as to people in the food and agritech agencies.
I thank Deputy Eric Byrne for his comments. To answer his question about conferences, we organise a lot of such events, including in Asia because they create a huge momentum. Those conferences are effectively EU-Asia conferences. When we have done them in Tokyo and Beijing, for instance, all the EU stakeholders are in the city, together with local government representatives and Asian colleagues from further afield. It is an EU-Asia engagement but the event is being run by an Irish organisation, which very much puts Ireland on the radar. We work closely with the ambassador and other members of team Ireland on those events.
I will ask my colleague to deal more comprehensively with the questions about education. We are partnering with the Higher Education Authority during Asia Business Week Ireland to focus on how efforts might be co-ordinated. I agree that the Columban Fathers are doing incredible work in the region. I have stayed with them in Japan and they are amazing people, as are the Jesuits. There is huge linkage potential there. The HEA has done some work in this regard in Brazil and that model is there to be replicated in Asia.
Speaking generally, as well as the lack of joined-up thinking, another problem is that there is sometimes a focus on process over progress when, in fact, our focus needs be to on progress over process. Of course, we have to do things in the right manner but the emphasis should always be on getting things done, making progress and achieving results rather than fixating on the process.
My understanding, on which I am open to correction, is that the number of Malaysian students coming to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is beginning to dip. A factor in this regard may be that the college's fees are deemed expensive compared with those of some competitor institutions. The RCSI is a fine institution and the prospects are good, particularly if the memorandum of understanding with Indonesia comes online.
Dublin Institute of Technology has a wonderful programme of collaboration with Irish Aid under which it is training people from Laos in tourism skills. I met a lot of people from the education sector on our recent trip to meet with ASEAN member states, including among the staff at the Asian Development Bank. Many of them made the interesting point that Asia no longer wants to be simply a marketing recruitment ground for students for Europe. Instead, it wants European institutions to go into Asia and partner with them. The DIT programme is a perfect example of that and is deserving of support. I am not familiar with any changes in the programme.
Reference was made to internships and building relationships. I will take a little credit in this area in that I was vice chairman of a Dublin-Beijing committee which had a useful engagement with our Chinese counterparts. When they told us they had more than 45 twin town and sister city relationships - I understand the number is now up to 60 - I asked how many of those relationships are really strong. I was told that only three fell into that category and when I asked why, they said those particular relationships were strong because they talk to each other all the time. It was out of this engagement with Beijing that the idea of internships developed. It has meant we have ambassadors for Dublin and Ireland who go back to Beijing. Last year I spent three months there and it is clearly a win-win for everybody. It would be great if we could extend that engagement to other locations.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked the reasons for some of the delays we have encountered. To be fair, team Ireland is working well with us and we get fantastic support from all Departments and agencies. Again, delays are generally due to a lack of joined-up thinking. It is sometimes worrying to see different people spending minimal resources essentially doing the same thing. Instead, there should be a parcelling out of responsibilities according to whether internal people or external people can do them more effectively. Everyone is busy and it is a question of how to get Ireland on people's radar in a focused way.
In regard to the EFL sector, what happened was very tragic. As a former chief executive officer of the Association of Compliance Officers in Ireland, I have some experience in this area. As I am no longer in that role, I am in a position to make the general observation that in some cases, we may have too much regulation while in others we do not have enough. To clarify, I am speaking on this point in a personal capacity.
There was a question about how we can enhance travellers' experience. Sometimes less is more and the focus should be on quality. What we find is that Ireland has become very good on the hard skills. Indeed, we are now very American in our style, with an emphasis on getting bang for one's buck, value propositions and key performance indicators. The danger in all of this is that it may be causing us to lose our strengths in the soft skills. Asians are quite different from us in that they are focused on building relationships. For an Asian business person, decisions on whether to go into partnership with another person are based on three considerations: the first is whether that person is credible, which is essentially about who the person is and by whom he or she was introduced; the second is whether one likes the other person, which is a human thing based on respect; and the third is whether one can trust the person. If an Asian business person believes in the other person, likes him or her and trusts him or her, the two of them will definitely be doing business; the only question is what it makes sense to do. In Ireland, it is the opposite way around - a type of clinical approach based on performance goals and so on. We need to meet somewhere in the middle.
In regard to the Irish going to Australia, everybody is trying to get a look in there. Beijing is trying to get them to go to Beijing. Experts like Kevin Toland of the Dublin Airport Authority know what needs to be done. Again, a Minister with overall co-ordinating responsibility could invite key experts to put this together.
It is very sad that we have almost 13,000 Filipinos working in Ireland, many of them contributing wonderfully to our health care and elder care services, but they have no embassy to represent them. The Filipino embassy shut down shortly after we officially opened there, but I assure the committee there was no connection between the two events. Essentially, the ambassador became ill and, as sometimes happens in bureaucracies, the role was subsumed into London, which does not allow the same the same level of engagement.
I suspect the Arab spring was a contributing factor. The millions of Filipinos working in those Arab countries were very vulnerable at that time and their embassies had to redouble their efforts to get them home and so on.
Mr. Martin Murray:
Absolutely. It is important to stress that the benefits of an engagement with Asia are not just for Dublin. Like all Corkonians, I am a proud one and I see the relationship being of national and regional importance to Ireland. I know of one Japanese company that opened in Kerry because it wanted to get highly educated local people as opposed to locating in a big city. There are a lot of opportunities throughout Asia, with its huge populations, but we must be targeted in our approach.
Trailblazers include Glen Dimplex, a wonderful Irish indigenous company. Equally, FEXCO is another great company. These are the kind of people that could be included in an advisory group from the industry, working under a Minister and key stakeholders, including ourselves.
There are some countries that we do not include because of a lack of time or resources. As the Deputy mentioned, there is much disparity between countries like rich Singapore and poor Laos. We do not particularly focus on human rights with regard to Myanmar and Philippines, as that is under the remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which makes its views very well known. We would sometimes informally brief the Irish Government on areas that we would deem of interest. We once did a briefing on North Korea as a request but it was complicated. It involved a Canadian non-governmental organisation and we were asked to do it off the record. We invited some people from the government to get a current briefing. It was unusual but the goodwill is there. Of course, it is automatic that everything should be ethical and compliant in all engagement. Any serious Irish companies going abroad take that as a given.
Deputy Smith mentioned Cavan and he will happy to hear that this year, during Asian business week, we will give an award to a Cavan-based ASEAN company from Thailand called Indorama Ventures, which essentially rescued the Wellman company in Cavan. It employs almost 400 people and was lost for a few years under private equity. In essence, those 400 jobs could have gone. There are other big companies in ASEAN like that who can come in as IDA Ireland clients and locate anywhere; this can include white knight rescue scenarios.
I will leave "brand Ireland" to Ms FitzGerald-Smith. The question was asked if we delude ourselves and the answer is "Yes". One of the worries that I see in our engagement with Asia is that we very rarely talk about competition or what other countries are doing. I know some members have mentioned the level of resources that other embassies have and we need to put that in context. If we are selling anything from Ireland to anyone of significance in Asia, we would be following a long line of other people who may, in many ways, be selling the same thing. We need to work out our unique selling point and how we can distinguish selling Ireland as one entity. Members will be happy to hear that we went to Belfast in January to engage with city hall officials. It has a China alliance and we were very impressed by the number of people who gave of their schedule to meet us. Belfast gets a bit lost between London and Dublin so the people there were really happy to engage. During Asian business week, two weeks from now, the Lord Mayor of Belfast will attend with some colleagues to see what we are doing. We have already started a process.
The reason we have not done things in London or Belfast is because we work closely with peer organisations in the UK and we are cautious about stepping on their toes. We are very comfortable about working in a joint fashion and we are considering doing an event in London and Brussels. Nevertheless, we are cautious about moving into other geographical territories without clear partnerships. The UK-Ireland joint trade mission to Singapore was a great example of the two countries working together.
Ms FitzGerald-Smith will speak to branding Ireland, given her expertise in social media, as well as the education issues.
Ms Stephanie FitzGerald-Smith:
I thank the committee for its comments and having us here today. I will speak later about education but I will first address "brand Ireland". I was a resident of Shanghai for five years and I worked very closely with the embassy in Shanghai to promote "brand Ireland". One cannot underestimate the power of the Irish diaspora abroad in promoting the brand.
I agree with the Senator that music is very important in promoting Ireland. We have a very talented culture and people recognise the Irish for that. I am aware that music was used regularly during the State visit to China by President Higgins in December at galas and various events that took place to promote Ireland. The St. Patrick's Day parades across Asia are very important elements in promoting team Ireland across Asia and music is a major part of that. For example, the Shanghai parade has students as young as five who have learned Irish dancing in Shanghai from a mix of Irish ex-pats living in Shanghai and locals who learn Irish dancing. There is one Irish dancing troupe which learned Riverdance from watching videos on YouTube. It started 13 years ago and the troupe is just as good as Riverdance now.
The promotion of Ireland through music, dance and cultural workshops is very important, and sport is equally vital. The Gaelic games community across Asia is very strong, for example. The Asian Gaelic Games will take place in Shanghai this year, and they have previously taken place in Kuala Lumpur quite regularly. I attended two years ago when there were 800 players from across Asia, and they were not comprised solely of Irish people. The group included a multitude of Asian people who are very talented at Gaelic games. In addition, the hurling all-stars toured Asia approximately two years ago, and Mr. Marty Morrissey came to Shanghai for that, travelling with them to present Irish hurling to the diaspora in Shanghai and across all of Asia. People watched this in awe and it was a very memorable occasion because hurling is a very fast sport that requires much skill.
Placement in schools across Asia and teaching Asian students how to experience Irish culture is a great way of promoting the Irish brand. New Zealand, for example, has invited celebrities to its island. We could invite celebrities who have millions of followers on social media in Asia to Ireland, which has a lot to offer, such as the Giant's Causeway and, more recently, the Wild Atlantic Way. These can be exhibited through social media to millions of people across Asia, which would be a great promotion. These would be marketed in those people's own language.
Ms Stephanie FitzGerald-Smith:
Sure, I can move to education. There was mention of the institutions competing against each other, and that was mentioned to us previously by Asians in Asia and heads of universities. They have said they are fed up of institutions selling the same thing. More recently, institutions have come together in ways like the 3U partnership, which involves Maynooth, Dublin City University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI. They have come together to market their products and the partnership has opened an office in Beijing. This is collectively trying to attract students to Ireland. The RCSI Penang development centre is a great partnership and it has proved very successful. That is a more targeted audience. Having young professional placements going both ways is vital, such as Beijing interns coming to Ireland. There should be placements coming from across Asia.