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Interview: Ireland forging ahead to grow trade with UAE – Dara Calleary

Ireland’s commitment to growing its trade relationship with the UAE was reinforced by the latest in a series of ministerial visits by Irish politicians, as Dara Calleary, Minister for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, attended Arab Health to promote Irish health tech and held ministerial summits and meetings with Emirates, Dubai Airport Authority and Dubai Duty Free.

Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Government’s development agency, signed a partnership with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to further increase cooperation, and a number of agreements have been signed between UAE and Irish companies. Calleary is the eighth Irish minister to visit the UAE in 12 months.

The most recent trade data available reveals $1.2 billion in Irish–UAE trade in 2022, divided almost equally into imports and exports. Key exports from Ireland are food, technology and life sciences, Calleary said, with food making up 23% and life sciences making up 14%.

For a country its size, with a population of around 5 million, Ireland punches above its weight in food exports, sending €16.6 billion ($18.1 billion) worth abroad in 2022, according to the Irish Food Board.

European Union data said Ireland’s GDP would contract in 2023 by 0.9% and the country has been fighting back from the impacts of Brexit on its relationship with its largest trading partner, the UK, then COVID-19, then supply challenges brought about by the Russia–Ukraine war, followed by the cost-of-living crisis.

Ireland’s outlook is brighter for the near future, according to the data from the European Union, which said that a GDP growth of 3% expected in 2024 and 3.4% in 2025.

There are 170 Irish companies trading in the UAE, which Calleary described as “a very substantial investment as a government on the ground in the UAE”. But he would like to see more.

There are currently two flights per day from Dublin, Calleary said. “My job is to try to encourage them to do more flights here; they have a very significant occupancy on those flights.

“We have a growing attraction in Ireland to IT and digital workers and healthcare from India; that’s a growing space,” he said.

“Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, we are one of the biggest exporting countries. I think Emirates are very apprised of the opportunities, and we had a very good discussion, which we are going to build up,” he said.

Why healthtech?

Calleary said many of the key decision-makers in health in the UAE were trained at the Dublin-based Royal College of Surgeons, with the result that its influence is felt throughout the UAE.

Some of the world’s largest healthcare companies, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have an Irish presence, and US medical device company DEXCOM, which produces glucose monitoring technology, recently broke ground on a plant in the west of Ireland which will employ 1,000.

“[Healthtech companies] are fitting into a healthcare ecosystem which includes medtronics and some of the hardware and software for healthcare,” he said.

Ireland-based companies are now providing healthcare solutions, he said, but they offer more than technical expertise. “There is an Irish sense of commitment to personhood which they embed in the technology, and that is something we have picked up here; there is a respect for Irish technology and solutions, but there is a respect for the Irish sense of care.”

Post-Brexit

Seven years after the UK voted to leave the EU, discussions are still ongoing that impact trade between the UK and both Ireland and its smaller neighbour, Northern Ireland, which is usually governed from both London and Belfast.

Last week, new rules on checks on EU goods imported to the UK came into force, meaning Ireland, which remains in the union and did £88.4 billion ($111 billion) in trade with the UK in one year according to UK government data, is subject to the checks too.

And on Saturday, Michelle O’Neill of the pro-united Ireland party Sinn Féin, became the First Minister of Northern Ireland as power-sharing resumed after a two-year break.

An agreement that Northern Irish goods using Irish ports will not be subject to the checks has brought hope that the deadlock is at an end, during a period Calleary described as “an important few days”.

“It’s really important that we continue to retain positive relationships. It’s still our most important trading partner, and obviously culturally we share a lot.”

Corporation tax comes into effect

In 2021, Ireland signed the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Pillar 2 tax rules, which require multi-national companies with revenue of €750 million to pay a 15% tax. The rules came into force at the start of January 2024.

Asked if this will dent Ireland’s appeal, Calleary pointed out that the country is now the largest English-speaking country in the EU, making it a cultural bridge to the bloc.

“We have other things to offer in our armoury: skills, location, the existing enterprise ecosystem, the pro-enterprise policies and government, our geographical position,” he said, adding that Ireland also involves industry in its third- and fourth-level education to make sure the workforce meets requirements.

We are resilient and we rebound from challenges, and we continue to raise the bar for enterprise globally,” he said. “We are very successful, but we are small, and we cannot afford to be complacent.”

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