Dáil Éireann - Volume 614 - 07 February, 2006

Written Answers. - Economic Competitiveness.

  140. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he is satisfied that Irish exporters are able to compete with their respective competitors on world markets; the recent trends in the export area and his proposals to enhance the prospects from an Irish viewpoint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4048/06]

  327. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he is satisfied that Irish exports are secure for the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4355/06]

  334. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has studied the effect of the Government’s high wage economy on the competitiveness of Irish exports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4362/06]

  Mr. M. Ahern: I propose to take Questions Nos. 140, 327 and 334 together.

Ireland’s economic growth and development is built, to a significant degree, upon the export activities of Irish based companies. The global economy, which Ireland has fully embraced for the betterment of all export orientated firms and [165] their employees, offers immense opportunities for Irish companies with a small domestic market.

While considerable effort is devoted to developing and enhancing Ireland’s traditional existing markets for exports, with northern Europe remaining our biggest market, Irish companies have achieved notable success in opening up new markets in recent years. From a position of 75% of Irish exports going to the UK in 1960, we have now reached a point where the EU now accounts for 62% of our exports with only 18% of exports going to the UK. Since last year, the US has replaced the UK as our leading export market and now accounts for about 20% of Irish exports. For example, Asia, a relatively new market for Irish companies, shows significant promise for sustained future growth. Pursuing the targets set out in the Government’s Asia strategy is a priority for the next five years. We have therefore actively supported Irish enterprises in exploiting the prospects offered by the Asian market as well as by existing export markets and newer markets such as central and eastern Europe which will also be important for future growth.

The ability of Irish companies to successfully market and sell overseas is critical for the success of the Irish economy, particularly in the rapidly evolving international marketplace. In this connection, there has been a very creditable performance on the part of Irish exporters in a difficult trading environment against the background of the current global economic slowdown, in particular the slow growth in the major European economies of France, Germany and Italy and fluctuations in exchange rates of the euro against the US dollar and the pound sterling.

To further support Irish exporters in competing with competitors on world markets, my Department and its agencies are encouraging our enterprises to undertake increased levels of investment in research, to use more technology in product development and to encourage more innovation across all sectors of the economy. This will help firms produce improved value added products and services. In the longer term this will provide longer lasting and higher quality jobs.

I and my departmental colleague, the Minister, Deputy Martin, have been active in leading trade [166] missions, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, to a range of markets. Last month a major trade mission to India took place, led by the Taoiseach.

In relation to recent trends in trade, the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show that exports increased by 7% in November 2005 relative to October 2005 and imports decreased by 9% in the same period. In addition, the export figure for November 2005 was 11% higher than the corresponding period for the same month in 2004. Strong export growth has taken place in 2005 across a number of key indigenous industry sectors including software and financial services, life-sciences and food, with the construction and engineering sectors maintaining performance levels.