Leo Varadkar: Trade is the bedrock of our economy

Opinion: New strategy sets out our principled and holistic approach to trade policy

Many countries owe their wealth and prosperity to natural resources like coal, oil, gas and precious metals.

Others grow rich through conquest and colonialism. Some choose to do both.

Ireland has no history of conquest, and no legacy as a coloniser. Our natural resources are limited largely to our landscape, agriculture, and to wind and wave.

Yet in a world of almost 200 nations, Ireland is consistently ranked in the top 10 or 20 in terms of prosperity and high living standards. This is because our prosperity is down to our land and our people, our natural pool of talent and ability. We produce this talent in Ireland and sell it around the world.


It’s easy to forget just how much we depend on trade. Our success and living standards are based on a formula of trading goods and services internationally, our attractiveness as a place to invest and our ability to enter into international free trade agreements with other countries.

This formula is strengthened by our position at the heart of the European Union, its single market and the euro zone.

We will not remain successful by standing still. We have to get ahead of the next wave and catch it

Day in, day out, our enterprise agencies, officials and diplomats reinforce this formula.

We literally cannot afford to take it for granted, especially in a world that is changing before our eyes, which has seen a return of protectionism in some quarters, and a return to conquest and colonialism in others.

Covid, Brexit, international tax reforms, new technology, the need to take radical action to reduce our emissions and Russia's decision to invade Ukraine have all caused huge disruption to trade over the past few years. They have redefined future risks, challenges and opportunities of doing trade into the future.

Still, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I find myself in the strange position that trade policy is rarely debated in the Dáil and when it is, it’s not to debate how to grow trade.

This leaves me concerned that many take Ireland’s recent economic success for granted. We need to ensure that Irish companies will continue to expand, that trade and employment will grow, that we will attract more investment from overseas and that we will have the skills and talent to underpin that model for years to come.

We should be talking about this and debating it. We will not remain successful by standing still. We have to get ahead of the next wave and catch it.

In a world that is changing before our very eyes, it’s right that we think about and plan for the long term.

So it’s timely to publish a new Trade and Investment Strategy: Value for Ireland, Values for the World.

This new strategy, which will be published later this week, sets out our plans for trade and investment, and climate and sustainability: our principled and holistic approach to trade policy.

I will chair a new cross-government and cross-agency trade and investment council to oversee implementation of the strategy, and its seven priority actions.

They include:

- Attending to our broader ecosystem to maintain and enhance our competitiveness, to grow Irish-owned business, attract FDI and maintain high standards of living

- Establishing an expert group on global value chains and supply chains to identify global supply chain opportunities and threats. The group will examine themes such as economic nationalism, open strategic autonomy, and ‘re-shoring’ initiatives

- Launching a Government of Ireland communications campaign to highlight the benefits of international trade and investment to a broader Irish domestic audience and foster a deeper understanding of the important role that trade and investment plays in providing jobs and to promote Ireland’s and the EU’s wider interests, including our values, principles and standards.

- One ‘whole-of-government’ trade mission annually.

- Making businesses more aware of our network of free trade agreements and tax treaties.

This new strategy is a chance for us to look at the changed global landscape, and the implications it has for trade.

Record levels of trade cannot be taken for granted. Maintaining and expanding global trade in a principled way will continue to be essential to Ireland’s economic wellbeing, living standards and sustainable development.

Leo Varadkar is Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment