Leo Varadkar eyes global trade to overcome Brexit challenges

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to double Ireland’s diplomatic and trade forces abroad by 2025, as Ireland tries to overcome challenges faced by Brexit, writes Juno McEnroe.

Speaking in Toronto, Canada, where he pledged to also grow the €2.7bn trade between the nations, Mr Varadkar though was forced to defend his visit and insist he was not “swanning” around.

The Taoiseach set out how the Government will unveil a plan to “double Ireland’s global footprint” by 2025 in a bid to lure businesses here.

The plan, which is being put together by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, will see a doubling of agency strength in some diplomatic areas, he said, adding:

“I intend to double the Team Ireland footprint overseas by 2025,” Mr Varadkar told an Enterprise Ireland event in Toronto. :This means new and augmented diplomatic missions and as well as significantly increased resources for our investment, tourism, cultural and food agencies overseas.”

Mr Varadkar highlighted how Ireland was under-represented in major economies and regions globally. This included not having a full embassy in New Zealand and no permanent consulates in Los Angeles or Mumbai in India. There was also no IDA office in Canada, he said.

Mr Varadkar said the move to ramp up Ireland’s presence in new regions was partially a response to Brexit but also global demographic changes.

During his speech, he told business leaders in Canada: “Enterprise Ireland client exports reached €21.6bn in 2016, up more than 6% year on year. Notwithstanding our strong competitiveness and vigorous economic growth, Ireland today faces undoubtedly the greatest set of political and economic challenges in a generation, as a result of Brexit. Now is the time to plan ahead with ambition.”

Mr Varadkar is exploring ways to boost links between Canada and Ireland this during his three-day visit there, which included a meeting with prime minister Justin Trudeau.

At the end of 2016, IDA Ireland had 28 Canadian companies here employing over 3,100 people. Canadian investment here is estimated today at C$14nn while one in seven Canadians claim Irish ancestry, a higher percentage than the US.

Mr Varadkar’s visit attracted criticism from Newstalk pundit George Hook. The radio host said Mr Varadkar had become a “public relations creation” and questioned why he was participating in events, including Montreal’s Pride parade, when he should be at home solving problems.

“I think he should be attending a homeless march,” said Mr Hook. “I think he should be attending a balanced budget march and I think he should be attending a security march so that we would actually have some government.”

Mr Varadkar tweeted back, defending his trip, saying: “George. Not swanning around Canada. 4 meetings & 4 public events today. Business. Tourism. Media. Irish community. Jobs. Trade.”

This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.

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