Over the past weekend, it was interesting to observe the contrast between one nation engaged in a progressive and positive interaction with the international community and another travelling in the opposite direction.
On a day when landmark buildings and monuments around the world were bathed in green to mark the value of Irishness, there was risible and spitting rhetoric emanating from London towards the major nations with which the UK trades. The UK’s political class, and especially those advocating the Brexit agenda, engage in repeated ignorant and patronising commentary about how the rest of Europe will behave as Great Britain prepares itself for a
future outside Europe. Instead of shaping warm relationships ahead of new trading partnerships, there are barbs about the temerity of other EU countries demanding due process while negotiating an EU exit This is hardly a constructive way to move forward.
It was announced with great fanfare last week that a no-deal Brexit trading pact had been reached by the UK government with Iceland and Norway. Iceland’s entire population is about the size of Cork City, while Norway has 5.3 million people. Contrast that with the facts more than 510m people live in the EU and that Ireland provides the second largest trade surplus in favour of the UK relative to any other nation.
One has to wonder what part of the phrase “prioritising those who matter most” is not understood.
This ‘arse over elbow’ approach to economic reality has to be assessed in comparison with the strategies being adopted by Ireland. Not invading various countries we would like to trade with is a good start.
However, it is the combination of Ireland’s unique selling attributes and its position inside one of the world’s largest trading blocs that give it particular potency.
The EU is a proven deal closer when negotiating important international trade deals. These large agreements are fiendishly difficult to get over the line and take years to complete. Yet, when secured, they open up vast new markets for good and services.
The recent trade deals clinched with Canada and Japan are good examples of pacts that provide European exporters of goods and services with big new markets, while offering importers a range of new products.
These EU trade deals are overarching but each member state has to plough its own furrow too. This is where Ireland’s combination of clever diplomacy and well-resourced state agencies come to the fore.
The various ministers who travelled the world last week as part of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations attended a wide range of meetings and social events organised by agencies including the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.
These provide the ground troops needed to establish and develop networks that can convert to business opportunities over time.
These endeavours take place with the support and encouragement of the EU. And there is a lot of consultation to ensure investments coming into Ireland abide by the rules of the single market.
In turn, this unlocks a flow of capital behind companies that decide to use Ireland as their base to grow and expand inside the EU market. All of this stands in stark contrast to the challenge facing Britain.
It will have no overarching large scale trade deals to shelter under when seeking new international partners. Countries like Canada, Japan, and China will have to weigh up the risks attached to giving the UK (and its population of 66m) any trade benefits that undermine their hard-fought gains with the EU. The theatrics and grandstanding of Brexit are set soon to collide with the cold realities of international trade negotiation.
That is when the Brexit caper will be truly seen for what it is — a monumental geopolitical failure.
Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal