Ireland is well placed to benefit from the end of the EU’s milk quota system next year. Already, the food sector has expanded rapidly to take advantage of the new opportunity that this presents. Last year Enterprise Ireland-assisted companies in the food and drink sector accounted for 55 per cent of the total exports of the State agency’s client companies. Food and drink exports, which amounted to €9.5 billion, grew by 10 per cent. Over the past four years, despite the recession, the sector has grown by 40 per cent. This has happened despite the difficult operating climate in Ireland, where small companies and start-up businesses have struggled to secure bank credit. Economic adversity has, it seems, spurred rather than repressed the spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurship among the country’s risk-takers.
That was one of the many encouraging highlights in Enterprise Ireland’s report for 2013. The role of the State agency is to facilitate the export efforts of Irish companies, by helping them to sell more in international markets. The development agency had a very successful year in 2013. Overall exports rose by 8 per cent to €17.1 billion, with the Asia/Pacific region recording the strongest increase – 20 per cent. Last year, Enterprise Ireland supported companies created 5,442 nation new jobs; the biggest increase in a decade. So far this year, with 3,750 jobs already created, the 2013 figure is likely to be surpassed.
Enterprise Ireland data indicates the strong benefits accruing to the domestic economy by a buoyant export sector. For every 10 jobs that an Irish client company creates, a further 13 are established in the domestic economy. But, as Enterprise Ireland’s Chief Executive, Julie Sinnamon has said, the challenge ahead is how to ensure that more companies can develop to reach an international scale of operation.This far too few indigenous companies have managed to achieve. However, the market opportunities now offered by the ending of the milk quota should help to make that a much more realisable goal for some in the food and drink sector.