Speech by Minister Donohoe to the Irish Business Network, Buenos Aires Argentina

15th March, 2018


It is a pleasure for me to be here with you this evening to represent the Government at the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Argentina.


Thank you to Matthew Moran, Richard Fenning and Orla Treacy for leading the Irish Business Network Argentina (IBNA) and helping it grow.


Thank you to the representatives of Enterprise Ireland who have come from Brazil to be with us tonight – Conor Fahy (Director for Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS), and Melissa Feddis (Manager South America).


I wish to begin by encouraging the Irish Business Network, as a body, to continue your excellent work in fostering and further developing business links between Argentina and Ireland that lead to mutual economic benefits for both our nations.


Argentina and Ireland are faced with an entirely new set of challenges in a rapidly changing international political and economic environment. Certainties about global trade and politics are changing. The final magnitude of the change is still to be determined but change is happening.


Amid this global volatility, Argentina is successfully re-positioning itself as a significant regional and global actor. Important milestones have included the hosting of the WTO Ministerial Conference here last year, attended by my colleagues, Ministers Pat Breen and Andrew Doyle, as well as Argentina’s G20 Presidency this year.


For our part, thanks to the hard work of the Irish people and the right policy choices, Ireland’s economic recovery is strongly embedded.


Our priority now is to ensure that the huge economic progress we have made in recent years is matched by greater momentum towards a social recovery so that the fruits of our success are broadly shared by all our citizens and in every region of the country.


As many of you will be aware St Patrick’s Day represents an important opportunity for the Irish Government not just to represent Irish business abroad but also to meet some of the key players in that business.


Ultimately, the benefits that come to Ireland from international trade come from your dedication and your hard work.


The role of the Irish Government, and mine as Minister for Finance and Public & Reform, is to make it as easy as possible for you to establish your business, to grow your business, and to not put any obstacles in the way of the success of your business.



Shared Outlook


Ireland and Argentina are different in many ways, Argentina’s population is nearly nine times larger than ours. Buenos Aires alone has a population more than half that of Ireland.


However, we also have a lot in common.


Over the years, many thousands of Irish people have made their way to Argentina and I think the fact that Argentina is home to one of the largest Irish communities in the world is testament not just to Argentinian hospitality, but also to a shared understanding and view of the world.


I think it is that shared view of the world and similar outlook on life that has led to so many close relationships between our countries; be it business, as with so many here in this room or the personal connections that have been formed over the years.


Ireland and Argentina both now share a common outlook on the volume of trade and the importance of openness and engagement with the global economy.


It is fair to say that this outlook has been etched in forty years of Irish foreign and economic policy. But it is clear that President Macri and his administration have developed an ambitious agenda based on openness, trade and reform.


The external changes which the Argentinian Government is responding to are regularly described as globalisation.




There are a wide range of opinions and arguments regarding what exactly globalisation means. Without getting into those debates, I would say that I think it is a useful term that manages to capture how a range of complex forces across the world are broadly bringing the world closer together.


As successful business people you are probably more aware than most about the range of challenges and opportunities that can arise from globalisation. More customers can also mean more competitors.


Balancing the risks and opportunities is what international business is all about.


From my perspective, globalisation is a force that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, laid the basis for our economic prosperity and created a safer world. But equally it is not a panacea to every problem.


It can also be a disruptive force. Particularly when combined with the incredible rate of technological progress the world is experiencing, globalisation can often be painted as something that people should be concerned about.


This anxiety has been a significant factor in many of the rejections of the status quo we have seen in recent years, including most recently the outcome of the election in Italy – the mother country for many Argentines.


My view is that populism will never deliver people the real remedies they are seeking to today’s problems of rapid change and economic insecurity. However, we should be less swift to dismiss the very real anxieties that have spawned them.


Nor should we delude ourselves that the globalisation that has transformed lives and pulled millions out of poverty is irreversible.


I need hardly remind an audience in Argentina, which was a huge beneficiary of the first age of globalisation in the 19th century, that nothing is pre-determined in human affairs or with political institutions and that progress and decline are two sides of the same coin.


The first era of globalisation came to a tragic end on Flander’s Fields with the First World War. It took generations after that for our current global era to come into being.


We cannot be complacent and indeed there are real challenges to our current global system. We need to make the case for it and defend it at a time when its enemies are gathering strength.


An Open Economy


That is why Ireland is committed to remaining an open economy. We made a choice to focus on international trade as one of the cornerstones of Ireland’s economic strategy.


While this approach does require careful management of the vagaries of international trade, as Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform, I am acutely aware of the contribution that international trade brings to Ireland which is why I continue to emphasise the need to support it as much as possible.




This global outlook is one of the reasons Ireland is fully committed to the ongoing work to agree a trade deal between Mercosur and the EU.


This deal will represent an opportunity for over 400 million people in the EU and nearly 300 million in Mercosur countries to improve their business relationships.


Ireland remains fully committed to the Mercosur negotiation, especially in view of the important economic gains expected for both sides from a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced EU-Mercosur Agreement.


While we do have concerns in relation to agriculture, and the potential impact on the EU beef sector, I am confident that we will ultimately achieve that comprehensive and ambitious trade agreement. And that trade agreement will contribute to future prosperity in every member state of the EU and Mercosur.

Changing Minds


Actually, persuading people about globalisation can be difficult. It can be very hard to combat a fundamental misunderstanding about international trade because it can require the audience to change a preconceived notion they themselves may not give a lot of thought to.


The idea of globalisation as a harm, and of trade as a threat, is a seductive one. It takes economic insecurity and points to ‘the other’ as the cause.


That is always a very appealing answer when the reality is usually significantly more complicated.


I recognise that trying to combat that perception solely with numbers and statistics does not always work. What is needed is to put some human faces on those numbers.


Be it the Irish entrepreneur who is now selling his product in a new market of 500 million people strong or an Irish company now hiring Argentinian workers in an Argentine based plant, the actual benefits of trade need to be made real for people.


And we also need to recognise that not every person will benefit in every way from trade right away.


But every citizen is also a consumer. International trade and globalisation reduces the cost of goods and services and provides new opportunities for business.




From Ireland’s point of view any discussion of globalisation and trade must include reference to Brexit.


Britain’s exit from the European Union will be a defining moment in our relationship and I would like to speak to you briefly today about what Brexit means for Ireland and the EU.


In the first instance, and without getting bogged down in all the detail available, I want to emphasize the scale of the challenge that Brexit brings.


While Ireland’s trade with Britain has dropped from over 50% in 1973 to 17% today they are still our single largest trade partner.


Estimates vary somewhat but over one hundred million border crossings take place between Ireland and the UK every year. Irish people cross the border for vacations, for university, for work, and even for marriage.


So we share not just trade but language, history and culture.


We also share the hard won peace process in Northern Ireland.


Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK are ongoing but I can confirm that Ireland’s priorities remain unchanged.


We must protect the peace process. We must ensure that there is no introduction of a hard border.  We must maintain the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.


And finally we must ensure there are effective transitional arrangements leading to the closest possible trading relationship between the UK and the EU.


This challenge can be met but we are under no illusions about the complexity and difficulty that must be overcome.




Globalisation is an incredible force but it does need to be managed carefully. Neither Government nor business should assume that everything will work out. Nor can we take it for granted.


For Ireland a crucial national challenge is Brexit.


But despite the scale of the challenge we are not facing it alone.


Our EU membership has been central to the success of our small, open, trading and competitive economy.  Membership of the Single Market and Customs Union is a core element of our Economic Strategy. Access has allowed our economy to prosper and has greatly assisted in attracting business.


It has given us full access to EU trade agreements with other major markets and a capacity to engage in global free trade that we could not possibly have on our own.


The EU is a home which we have helped build and while there are many challenges, the Irish Government is confident that we can work together as 27 countries, to deal with all of those challenges.


While Brexit will pose undoubted challenges to the Irish economy, there will also be some opportunities and the Government will work to maximise those where possible.


The world will continue to change and our role as Government and leaders is to ensure that whatever the challenges we are ready to meet and overcome them.


In conclusion, I want to again wish you well in your work to further enhance our bilateral economic ties and to assure of our Government’s ongoing support in this regard.   I look forward to meeting you all in our networking session later but before that I am happy to take any questions you may have.


Thank you.