Ireland has enjoyed a long relationship not only with Hong Kong, but also with the Chamber, Irish Consul General David Costello told members at a webinar on 18 May.
HKGCC’s first Chairman, Alexander Perceval, came from County Sligo, and first LegCo Representative, in 1884, was Thomas Jackson from County Leitrim.
“So it’s a really deep and engaging history that we have between Hong Kong and Ireland, and I hope that we can carve out a new history together,” Costello said.
Costello said that the coronavirus has dealt a blow to the Irish economy and had also impacted the negotiations around Brexit. Britain has officially left the European Union, but still needs to finalise the exit agreement, with outstanding issues including ensuring a level playing field, criminal justice and fisheries.
“The two sides are quite far apart and they will need to come closer together to get to agreement,” Costello said. “It is not clear how things will shape up, and a lot will depend on the economic challenges post-Covid.”
The E.U. is one of the top three trading powers in the world, and also sets standards that are used globally including in employment, auto and food production. So having a route into Europe is important for international businesses, and Ireland offers many benefits.
“Ireland is at the heart of Europe. It is one of the most Europhile countries in the Union, and around 93% of the population supports the E.U.,” Costello said. “As members of HKGCC look to Europe, Ireland is your natural partner.”
Ireland is now the largest English-speaking country in the E.U., and largest common law jurisdiction. In areas like open economy and ease of doing business, it consistently ranks very highly. In fact, Ireland has many similarities with Hong Kong, Costello explained.
“In terms of the natural synergies, financial services is the obvious space to look at,” he said. “Ireland just received the status of an approved jurisdiction with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and we’re expecting the first IPO in the third quarter. So you can see Ireland is growing and deepening as a financial centre.”
In particular, Ireland is a global leader in terms of ETF listings. For example, Mexican investors can now invest in Ireland via the Mexican stock exchange. “We’d like to do something similar in Hong Kong, so Ireland becomes a viable option for Hong Kong ETFs as well.”
Ireland also hopes to lead the way as a home for sustainable finance, Costello added. “Post-Covid, we cannot go back to business-as-usual. One of the issues that has cropped up has been climate change and the impact of encroachment on habitats.”
Summing up, the Consul General said that Ireland offered many opportunities post-Brexit. “For Hong Kong businesses that are used to dealing with the U.K., the natural option in the heart of Europe is now Ireland.”
Also speaking at the webinar was Mo Harvey, Head of Fintech and Financial Services, APAC at Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government’s venture capital investment and development agency. She explained that Ireland had been preparing for Brexit since the 2016 referendum, including exploring new global markets.
“This is where we saw Asia as a critical market for Irish companies. Traditionally, the trajectory of an Irish company is they would move and scale to the U.K. first, then to Europe, the U.S. and Asia,” Harvey explained.
This is changing and Irish businesses are now looking at Asia. At the same time, Ireland is also becoming a hub for FDI.
“Ireland is a gateway to Europe in a similar way that Hong Kong is a gateway to Asia. So there are a lot of synergies.”
Harvey noted that Ireland ranks very highly on key business indicators including a young, highly educated and flexible workforce, investment incentives, IP protection and tax regime. “Those tax rebates and grants were key in attracting tech and medical tech companies to Ireland, mostly from the U.S. initially, but we are seeing an increasing trend of more coming from Asia.”
Ireland’s business-friendly environment has attracted an impressive range of global companies, including nine out of the top ten U.S. technology companies and all of the top ten pharmaceutical companies.
“Most of these companies are centred in Dublin,” she said. “Like in Hong Kong, there is a high concentration of world-class companies within walking distance of each other.” Dublin’s ‘Silicon Docks’ area is home to the European headquarters of Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Another key sector for Ireland is financial services, and again, the country is home to many global firms.
“The impact of Brexit on the financial services sector has been absolutely astonishing,” Harvey said. “Luxembourg and the Netherlands have also benefited, but Ireland has been the logical choice for many firms. We’ve seen 70 Brexit-related investments in Ireland and more than 5,000 jobs.”
Ireland is also strong in the fintech, medtech and insurance sectors, and there has been a lot of foreign interest in the property sector, Harvey added.
As the webinar concluded, the Consul General added that around 17% of Ireland’s population were born outside the country, so it has a global outlook as well as a young and educated demographic.
“We are a very open, welcoming and friendly place,” Costello said.