While the European Union (EU28) is overwhelmingly the UK's top trading partner, the question has been raised in recent days on whether the Euro Area is Ireland's top trading partner or whether it is an Anglo-Saxon alliance that will copperfasten prosperity, free of sclerotic Europe?
David McWilliams wrote in his Sunday Business Post column last Sunday: "...there is a startling divergence between the British economy, our biggest trading partner, and the Eurozone economy that Official Ireland pretends is our biggest trading partner...we are actually part of the Anglosphere which maps a giant global arch from Dublin to London, across the Atlantic through North America and down to Australia and New Zealand. This is our world. This is where we trade, where our investments come from, where our people live. It is an interlinked web of culture, language and family."
Soundbite narratives are popular and with Europe struggling, the current Irish recovery is attributed to the economic ties with the UK and the US. These of course are important, including for emigration, but the data since early 2013 show that most of the added jobs were not in exporting firms.
In July 2000, Mary Harney, then enterprise minister and leader of the Progressive Democrats, in a speech famously put Ireland in the American orbit. It was fine that Germany financed road building and provided CAP welfare to Irish farmers at a rate of 6% of annual GDP a few years before. Times had changed and the alchemists had found a formula that would create a permanent prosperity.
"Geographically we are closer to Berlin than Boston. Spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin," Harney said. "When Americans come here they find a country that believes in the incentive power of low taxation. They find a country that believes in economic liberalisation. They find a country that believes in essential regulation but not over-regulation. On looking further afield in Europe they find also that not every European country believes in all of these things."
Five years later Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, began a piece with a Dublin dateline: "Here's something you probably didn't know: Ireland today is the richest country in the European Union after Luxembourg."
It wasn't the truth then and it's even further from it now.
"It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold," Friedman quoted Harney. "It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization."
In 1973, the year Ireland joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) almost 55% of the total value of exports went to the UK followed by the Other 7 EEC members (21%), Rest of World (14%) and the US (10%).
The UK now accounts for about (17%) of total exports; the Other EU26 (39%); the US (18%); Rest of World (26%).
During the Irish recession of the 1980s, there was a lot of debate on introducing foreign languages at school primary level and it got nowhere.
In 2010, approximately 3% of Irish primary school students were studying a foreign language — compared to the UK's 69%, and an EU average of 79% according to Eurostat.
The inability of the indigenous international trading sector to develop significant markets inside or outside of what David McWilliams calls the Anglosphere, does not mean we can float on an arc all the way to New Zealand.
There is no pot of gold under that rainbow either.
David McWilliams writes: "We are the only Eurozone country that actually does more trade outside the Eurozone than within it."
However, behind this claim is a reality that it's not Irish firms in the main that are handling the trade. Most of this trade doesn't even involve selling, marketing overseas, or innovation in Ireland.
The Irish Government says that 54% of IDA Ireland client firms are research and development (R&D) inactive and a small number of the foreign firms account for most of the low activity. The level of patenting has hardly changed in a decade.
David McWilliams also writes: "In a world of mobile capital there can be few more attractive destinations for innovative and high-tech investment. Britain has four of the top ten universities worldwide, generating world-class academic research. This is evidenced in the disproportionate number of British-based Nobel prize winners in science."
However, the commercialisation record is poor:
It is good to see the British economy improving as many indigenous firms are reliant on it.
London is a successful global city but it is only part of the UK economy and in 2014 GDP per capita was still slightly behind France and several other European countries. Exports to Ireland exceed exports to China and the UK has run a combined goods and services deficit every year since 1999.
In contrast with Germany where most new jobs added in the economy in recent years have been permanent ones, there has been a big rise in self-employment and part-time jobs in the UK.
The reality check here is that the Irish will never become rich by holding the cap out in the biggest part of the Anglosphere for ready-made jobs.
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