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Jim Kelly is Ireland’s Ambassador to Canada

Today is St Patrick’s Day, when Irish people celebrate our heritage and culture, together with our diaspora and friends around the world. In Canada, where one-seventh of the population claims Irish heritage, this special day recalls the deep historical connection between our countries, going back to the 16th century, when Irish fishermen first came to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.

In the following centuries, generations of Irish people came to seek a new life in Canada, many fleeing famine, economic deprivation or political oppression. Canada welcomed Irish people with generosity, and in turn they helped shape Canada, from Confederation to the present day. Their contribution is commemorated in the names of streets and towns across the country, and their positive influence is found in all walks of Canadian life.

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We are fortunate to be able to build on the sturdy foundation of our common history. Today, we are forging an ever closer partnership based on shared values and interests, which our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar articulated when welcoming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Ireland in 2017:

“ … In an increasingly uncertain world, Ireland and Canada share the same outlook. We are like-minded. We believe in multilateralism, free trade, respect for personal liberty, the value of diversity, the benefits of migration, the need for climate action and openness to the world”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, shakes hands with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, at Farmleigh House, in Dublin, in a July 4, 2017, file photo.

PAUL FAITH/AFP / Getty Images

The years since have seen rapid advances in that partnership, with strong growth in our bilateral trade, investment and tourism. This is all the more notable when set against the background of a turbulent period in international relations.

Two key developments have acted as catalysts for progress. The first is the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). By virtually eliminating trade tariffs and reducing regulatory barriers, CETA has created improved, more predictable trading conditions for business. The response has been dramatic. In the first year after the provisional implementation of CETA, the value of bilateral merchandise trade between our countries grew by close to 30 per cent.

The second, perhaps surprisingly, is Brexit.

Brexit presented significant political and economic challenges for Ireland, and continues to do so. The EU-U.K. Withdrawal Agreement meets our primary concern to safeguard peace and prosperity by avoiding any return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, while maintaining the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain, and protecting continuing North-South co-operation. In the upcoming negotiations, we will work with partners for the closest possible EU-U.K. relationship based on a balance of rights and responsibilities, including level playing field provisions for fair competition.

However, we know that in all scenarios Brexit will mean considerable change for our businesses trading with a U.K. outside the EU Single Market and Customs Union. We are preparing extensively for Brexit and have put measures in place over several budgets to support key sectors exposed to the British market, and to incentivize diversification.

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Even as Brexit presents ongoing challenges at home, however, it offers significant opportunities for the Ireland-Canada relationship. With CETA making it easier for companies to establish presences and invest in our respective jurisdictions, and Brexit driving diversification of our trade, Canada is a key target market for Irish business. Already, Canada is the 10th-largest market globally for Irish exports, while our companies are employing increasing numbers here in Canada in financial services, life sciences, business-to-business software and construction products.

Many Canadian companies and investors in financial services, technology and other sectors now look to Ireland’s unique offering as a culturally compatible, English-speaking, common-law country with barrier-free access to the 450 million consumers of the EU Single Market. With a business-friendly environment, a highly educated workforce and an economy averaging growth of four to five per cent per annum, Ireland provides the perfect gateway to the EU for Canadian business.

Since St. Patrick’s Day 2017, 21 members of our government have visited Canada in support of the growing bilateral relationship. In 2019, our government published its strategy to double our impact in Canada by 2025. To deliver this strategy, new resources have been provided to Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, our export and investment promotion agencies, as well as Tourism Ireland, whose efforts have seen Canada rise to become the No. 6 market globally for tourism into Ireland. Just over a year ago, we opened a new diplomatic consulate in Vancouver – our first new diplomatic office in Canada in 80 years. A second such consulate is due to be opened in Toronto in the next two years.

These are exciting developments at a moment of unique opportunity in our relations and demonstrate Ireland’s commitment to seize that moment. In these testing times, Ireland-Canada relations provide a welcome good news story, and one worth celebrating on this St Patrick’s Day.

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