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Remarks by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Economic Promotion Lunch, United States Institute of Peace, Wednesday 15 March 2017



Distinguished guests

It is a real pleasure to be back here in Washington and to have the opportunity to join you as we celebrate St Patrick's Day and reinforce our commitment to the strong and abiding relationship between the United States and Ireland.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you all this afternoon in these magnificent surroundings of the United States Institute of Peace – an institution with a most noble cause.

Today I will update you on Ireland's economic progress, why Ireland remains a fantastic business location, the latest EU developments, and the importance we place on international trade as well as pointing to some key highlights of the Ireland-US relationship.

Ireland’s Economy
Ireland economy continues to grow strongly. Last year it grew by 5.2%, outperforming most of our EU partners.

The increase in economic activity is broadly based, with growth being experienced across all sectors, whether they be export or domestic focused.

The strength of the recovery is perhaps most clearly evident in the labour market. Employment is at the highest level since 2008 while unemployment has dropped by almost 2% in the past year alone which is fantastic progress.

Export growth in recent years has also been exceptionally strong. In Ireland Connected our recently published trade, tourism and investment strategy, we have set an ambition to increase our indigenous exports to €26 billion by 2020.

Foreign Direct Investment also continues to be a key contributor to Ireland’s economic development and growth. Over 1,300 foreign owned companies have put down roots in Ireland and our membership of the European Union has been key to this success.

EU and Brexit
That Membership of the EU has been transformative for Ireland’s economy and society.

While we respect the UK's decision to leave the EU, I continue to believe it is bad for Britain, for Ireland and for Europe. And while we will miss the United Kingdom as a fellow member and ally in the EU, we will be absolutely thorough in protecting and advancing our interests by seeking the best possible outcome from the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

In this regard, we are absolutely determined to protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, to minimise any negative economic impact, to maintain our Common Travel Area with Britain and to promote a stronger, more effective European Union in the years ahead.

Whilst there will be unique challenges facing Ireland, we are also in a strong position to maximise any opportunities for Ireland arising from Brexit.

Ireland is an important bridge between the US and the EU. Post Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the EU, at the heart of the Single Market with unfettered access for companies, and in the Eurozone. Our people are well-educated and are passionate about business, progress and creativity.

We want to be known as the best small country in the world for business. We will compete for mobile business from the UK that sees the value of and need for locating in the EU.

We will continue to promote the strengths which make Ireland so attractive to FDI. And key to this is our strong commitment to international trade.

International trade
As a great Irish-American, President Ronald Reagan once commented, “The winds and waters of commerce carry opportunities that help nations grow and bring citizens of the world closer together. Put simply, increased trade spells more jobs, higher earnings, better products, less inflation, and cooperation over confrontation”.

It is my conviction that those words of President Reagan spoken in 1983, continue to ring true today. That is the case for Ireland and that is, I believe, the case globally.

As a small, open economy, trade and investment represent Ireland’s very life blood.

The more Ireland trades with the world the more prosperous our society becomes. We have seen this very concretely over the last half century, as we opened the Irish economy and in the process transformed our country for the better.

Ireland steadfastly supports an open, rules-based international trading system which promotes and delivers open, free and fair trade.

We continue to believe that a comprehensive bilateral trade and investment deal between the EU and US would benefit both economies and most importantly, the workers and consumers of both blocs.

So I am determined to work with the new US administration and as a committed member of the EU towards this end.

Bilateral economic relationship
The significance of trade and investment for Ireland is nowhere more clearly seen than in our bilateral economic relationship with the United States.

Again last year, the United States was Ireland’s largest market for goods exports with exports valued at more than €30 billion. And the United States also remains Ireland’s largest trading partner in services with the US running a significant trade surplus. Viewed across both goods and services however, our overall trade flows are remarkably balanced.

The US also continues to be Ireland’s largest source of inward investment, accounting for around 70% of all inward FDI, employing up to 150,000 people in more than 700 operations in Ireland. In the other direction, more than 700 Irish companies employ close to 100,000 Americans across all 50 States.

We look forward to seeing more and more Irish companies, with the support of Enterprise Ireland, set up operations here in the US and strengthening the US economy as they compete and win in this highly competitive market. I am delighted to see so many of these innovative Irish companies represented here today.

One Irish indigenous export sector that has seen remarkable growth in the US market is Irish food and beverage. Exports in this sector to the US exceeded the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2016. Sales grew by 19% last year, a great performance solidifying the US as Ireland’s second largest food and beverage export market.

Another enormously important indigenous industry for Ireland is tourism which employs over 220,000 people in every corner of the country. Last year, Ireland welcomed 9 million overseas visitors with North America making a significant contribution to this with a record figure of 1.6 million North Americans visitors, contributing over $1.5 billion to the economy. An amazing ten per cent of all American visitors to Europe now visit Ireland.

As an island destination, direct, convenient and competitive flights are critical to achieving and sustaining tourism growth. Recent years have seen major increases in the number of flights available to Ireland and the number of gateways served across the US. New for summer 2017 include services from Miami operated by Aer Lingus, from Boston operated by Delta and Stewart New York and Providence Rhode Island operated by Norwegian Airlines.

Ireland has a strong knowledge economy. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than through our scientific excellence, innovation and creativity. Our strong reputation in these areas is validated in our rankings across a number of key international indicators.

The key to our success in these areas, as with others, is our people. Our national foundation for research, Science Foundation Ireland, is responsible for funding excellent research teams in Ireland. Many of these teams are collaborating with Industry and academia here in the U.S.

This afternoon, I will have the honour of presenting two Science Foundation Ireland St Patrick's Day Science Medals, to Professor Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, Seattle and to Dr Pearse Lyons, Founder and President of Alltech.
Creative Ireland
Underpinning the success I have spoken about across all these key sectors is Ireland's creativity. To fully harness this, the Government launched Creative Ireland last year. This programme will place our strongest assets – our culture and creative communities, at the centre of public policy and promote Ireland in an intensely competitive global marketplace as a great place to live, to invest, to work and study.
As part of this Creative Ireland programme, this week I launched the Ireland.ie website. This new portal will assist in enhancing Ireland's profile and offering here in the US while showcasing the best of Irish creativity to a global audience.
I want to thank all of you for your contribution to the enduring and deep relationship between Ireland and the United States.

Today I hope we can write the next chapter of that story together by forging new and exciting relationships that will tie our great countries ever closer.

Thank you.