Irish Examiner View: Pharma exports 31% of Irish total - Trump’s plan would ruin our economy

Every visit to Ireland by every American president was a melodrama in mutually-agreed exploitation.
Irish Examiner View: Pharma exports 31% of Irish total - Trump’s plan would ruin our economy
US President Trump, speaking to Fox News in front of Washington's Lincoln memorial on Sunday.

Every visit to Ireland by every American president was a melodrama in mutually-agreed exploitation.

That view may offend romantic interpretations of the motivations behind those grand visitations, but it is nonetheless true.

Some — especially Bill Clinton’s, given his proactive role in the North — were much more, but most had objectives of a different, more personal kind.

Ronald Reagan’s visit to Ballyporeen, in June 1984, epitomised that opportunism. He was beginning his campaign that won him a second White House term, so he was happy to highlight his newly-found Irish ancestry so he might make common cause with Irish-American voters.

For our part in those dramas — contemporary versions of the Delhi Durbar — we hope to attract American investment and visitors.

This process, with EU membership, corporate-friendly tax arrangements and an English-speaking workforce, has paid huge dividends for Ireland and for American investors.

Ireland is a significant exporter of pharmaceuticals and medical products to America. Last year, we exported €48.2bn, almost €1bn a week, and 31% of all Irish exports. Most of this went to America, and was produced by US companies with facilities in Ireland.

To put that figure in context, food and drink exports hit a record €13bn — just over €1bn a month— in 2019, little more than a quarter of the value of pharma exports.

Such figures inevitably attract attention, not all of of it well-intentioned.

If that attention can distract from an unfolding public policy disaster— 70,000 Covid-19 deaths in America — and an economic crisis, then so much the better.

That seems a reasonable way to frame President Donald Trump’s declaration on Sunday night that he intended, within two years, to repatriate American drug production.

Should he succeed, our economy would be decimated. It might be comforting to dismiss that renewed declaration as braggadocio, especially as he may not be president for long more.

But at a moment when Irish exchequer figures expected today may suggest a €30bn budget deficit this year, that might be hasty. The prospect that he might be re-elected cannot be dismissed either.

On a different level, the declaration shows how Irish America has waned.

It is impossible to imagine that any modern American president could, just six months from an election, invite the chagrin of a well-organised diaspora once numbered close to 40m. But Trump has.

Whether that is due to indifference, or another example of his anti-politics politics is hardly material.

Just as changing demographics may, in time, be influential in establishing a new political reality on this island, they are changing the depth our relationship with today’s America and maybe not for the better.

We may not be the only country feeling this chill wind. Italy had, through its emigrants and their children, a strong relationship with America but it has weakened and, just a year ago, Italy became the first G7 Group-of-Seven nation to join China’s One Belt, One Road project. Increasingly disillusioned with the EU, Italy has made a decision that underlines how well-prepared China is to fill the gap left by a retreating America.

Ironically, the greatest losers in this tectonic shift may be those who elected Trump.

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