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Big year for Ireland at home, abroad

St. Patrick’s Day kicks off a promising year for Ireland’s future


Later this week, South Korea and the world will be tickled green when St. Patrick’s Day comes marching.

In Seoul, one of the city’s most popular and widely participated events will happen on March 19 when the Irish community will tickle everyone’s green bone with Irish culture such as music, dancing and other popular events.

The Irish Embassy also plans to showcase the beauty and advantages the Emerald Isle offers to Korea in Insa-dong.

“In a funny kind of way, even though it’s our national day, it’s also an international day for Ireland because of the 70 million people of Irish heritage living around the globe. Not bad for a country with 4 million people,” Irish Ambassador Eamonn McKee told The Korea Herald,

In a way, St. Patrick’s Day is also the showcase for a big year ahead for Ireland.

On Feb. 25, Ireland voted overwhelmingly for change.

The once powerful Fianna Fail party lost 65 percent of its seats and a new political motivation took root when the center-right Fine Gael party and the center-left Labour Party formed a coalition government.

“That means that they are in a strong position to take what remain to be very difficult decisions ahead in terms of correcting Ireland’s fiscal imbalances and dealing with the debt arising from the banking crisis,” he said.

The message for Korea and the rest of the world is that the Celtic Tiger “is open for business.”

McKee points out that the forecast looks very promising.

Following sharp contractions over the past two years and unemployment at 13 percent, the latest data suggests that the economy has stabilized and that GDP growth will hit 1.7 percent this year and an average growth of 2.75 percent from now until 2014.
Irish Ambassador Eamonn McKee  (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Irish Ambassador Eamonn McKee  (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

“The growth will primarily be driven by the external sector over this period,” he said.

“We are exporting high quality goods in communications, computers and pharmaceuticals. We have 1,000 companies located in Ireland including Google, eBay, Intel and Microsoft. Now our competitiveness is being restored so the prospects of the economy are very good on that basis,” McKee added.

As their main exports markets of the United States, Europe and Britain start to pull out of their recessions, Ireland’s exports will grow as well.

What is impressive is that exports have remained strong for Ireland and grew to an annual rate of 13 percent, fueled by the recovery of international markets who demanded Irish goods such as services, manufacturing and agri-food sectors.

“Those sectors changed their main focus away from the traditional markets towards new export opportunities in North and South America and Asia,” he said.

Bilateral trade between Ireland and Korea remains very healthy at $1 billion last year but what will really help overall business is the upcoming ratification of the Korea-European Union free trade agreement.

“It will benefit Ireland because one of its features is the reduction of tariffs on agricultural products which will create a level playing field,” said McKee.

One of the most vigorous sectors of the Irish economy is high quality food and beverages. This also includes pharmaceuticals and ingredients used in the manufacturing of dairy products.

“The FTA is very encouraging in terms of eliminating barriers on financial services and Ireland is a leading hub for such services,” he noted.

Once ratified, the Korea-EU FTA will be one of the most comprehensive free trade agreements.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be problems,” McKee said. “Implementing these kinds of comprehensive agreements and dealing with the disputes that will inevitably arise particularly with invisible trading barriers will happen, but the FTA has dispute resolution mechanisms built into it.”

The well-rounded image of Ireland will get a huge push in October when the Asian Gaelic Games will be hosted in Suwon at the same time and in the same city as the Asia-Pacific Irish Business Forum.

“It’s a great way to build connections and bridges who are familiar with Asia but aren’t that familiar with Korea and vise-versa,” he said.

The games are a tournament of Gaelic football and hurling, featuring club teams from all over Asia including the Middle East. About 800 visitors will be in Seoul and Suwon and participate in the games.

History will be made this May in Dublin when British Queen Elizabeth will conduct her first state visit to Ireland.

“It’s a historic event but it’s also a reflection of how the peace process has matured, is there to stay, how the wounds in society created by the conflict have been healed and it’s a measure of the good relations between Ireland and England after 800 years of colonization,” said McKee.

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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