US Chamber of Commerce chief says Ireland ripe for growth


According to Thomas Donohue, the economy retains many key advantages, writes COLM KEENA,Public Affairs Correspondent

IRELAND IS “ripe for a strong economic recovery”, according to the most powerful business lobby leader in the United States.

Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, says American business leaders and financiers believe Ireland is in much better shape than other European countries that have been receiving negative coverage of their economies.

“I’m not saying that the numbers are that much better, but I’m saying that the potential for getting back and getting back soon, fast and in a hurry is that much greater,” Mr Donohue said in an interview with The Irish Times.

He was speaking from Washington before a one-day visit to Ireland beginning today.

While Ireland got into trouble during the “global economic squeeze”, it had a lot of advantages that would stand to it, Mr Donohue said. It had built up its infrastructure and had trained a lot of workers. It had also kept its low corporation tax rate.

“The Irish have what it takes. They have a good tax system, a great workforce, a good geographic location, good partners and investors. I think they are going to come out of this just fine.”

Mr Donohue said he had a scheduled trip to Europe to take in Brussels and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when he also decided to visit Ireland.

During a breakfast meeting with the Irish Ambassador in Washington, Michael Collins, Mr Donohue praised Ireland for resisting pressure to raise its corporation tax rate, and said Ireland was still a great place for investment.

Mr Collins suggested he visit Ireland and say that, and he immediately agreed. He said he was visiting Ireland to repeat his message that it was a great location for American investment.

He said he also wanted to use the trip to promote his idea that there should be entirely unencumbered trade between the EU and the US for manufactured goods. “That would be worth a ton of increased business.”

Even if it didn’t work, the idea might serve to boost the push for a new global trade agreement.

He said US corporations were more worried about what had been happening in the US economy than in Ireland.

Looking at Europe, he added: “American business people and financiers worried about a cascading problem from Greece to Portugal to Spain and wherever.”

They were not worried about Ireland because it had the fundamentals of a strong economy. It had an improved infrastructure, a trained and educated workforce, a good location and good management.

It also had an English-speaking workforce who had a “wholesome and healthy work ethic”.

Ireland would be in most corporate executives’ top three choices for a location for their business, he said.

US president Barack Obama has signalled he would like to make US multinationals pay billions of dollars more in corporation tax by restricting their ability to locate profits in offshore locations. Mr Donohue said he believed business lobbying against the idea was gaining ground.

“I think the president is learning more about these issues than he understood before. We are working with him on that and I am looking forward to some rational adjustment on the tax issues that he has been calling for.

“I think the president is becoming more focused on what it takes to become globally competitive.”

If the US softened its corporation tax regime, then multinationals would bring more of their profits home for investment. “We’re making noise about this, but that’s my job,” he said. “We’re all over this like a cheap suit.”

Mr Donohue has been running the US Chamber of Commerce since 1997 and is widely credited with transforming it into one of the most successful lobbying organisations in Washington.

It spends significant amounts of money on political advertising during elections and has contributed to the electoral defeat of politicians it believes are not sympathetic to its views.

According to the Washington Post’sonline profile of Mr Donohue, he represents more than three million US companies and is “one of the most powerful political figures in Washington DC”.

Mr Donohue said his grandfather on his mother’s side was an Ahern. The Aherns were republicans, the Donohues were “Tammany Hall Democrats”.