InterTradeIreland - first step to an island economy
A new departure in all-Ireland economic development was launched in Dublin last week. InterTradeIreland (ITI), the Trade and Business Development Body, one of the six all-Ireland bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement, held the first of a series of four road shows.
The primary aim of the road shows is to promote cross-border trade between Irish companies. At present 26% of Six-County exports come South while only 4% of 26-County exports go North. This week, ITI is hosting a road show in Belfast, with other shows to be held in Limerick on 17 November and Derry on 24 November.
InterTradeIreland's legislative role is defined as being ``to exchange information and co-ordinate work on trade, business development and related matters where the two administrations specifically agree it would be in their mutual interest''.
InterTrade's chairperson, Martin Naughton, describing the work of the body, has said that by maximising ``business and trade opportunities we are seeking to bring benefit to every person on this island''. ITI is also trying to build an agenda for social inclusion, targeting social need and tackling poverty into its trade and business development programme.
In the months since ITI formally came into being last December, the body has been carrying out a number of studies and projects, which are summarised in an accompanying article.
Phoblacht spoke to InterTradeIreland board member Robbie Smyth. He said that the board was unique because ``it drew a clear line under many of the economic and business development failures of the past north and south''. Smyth said that ``unlike the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, the IDB and other agencies, the board membership of ITI covers a much broader cross section of business and political interests across the island''.
Smyth said: ``ITI has two core constituencies to deliver to. At one level it must be able to show the business community that it can deliver tangible benefits, that it can help grow and enhance Irish businesses.
``At a second and equally important level it must be able to bring benefits to the areas and communities that are most economically marginalised and disadvantaged throughout the island.
``InterTradeIreland is skirting that grey area between only businesses benefiting from the Good Friday Agreement and the communities those businesses are rooted in also benefiting. Delivering real and tangible benefits for both these groups will be the real test for ITI''.
There was also, according to Smyth, a need for businesses on both sides of the border that are benefiting from unprecedented economic growth to live up to their wider responsibilities. This he said, falls into a number of important areas, including union recognition, profit sharing, adequate wages, better working conditions and ensuring that their business activities are not environmentally damaging.
Discrimination, whether on the basis of religion, gender or ethnicity, must be ``tackled systematically by the new legislation and accompanying agencies set up under the Good Friday Agreement''.
InterTradeIreland is, according to Smyth, doing a lot of good work, the benefits of which will only be seen in the longer term. It showed, he said, the need also for ``much greater levels of economic co-operation between the two statelets''.
Smyth also highlighted the need for greater co-operation in areas like road and rail development, electricity, gas and telecommunications infrastructural development as well as harmonisation of taxes and a single currency for the island.
There is also a pressing need to ensure that any greater links in economic planning and policy making are led by bottom up participation. ``It is pointless building an island economy for business if you are not going to build also the democratic structures that ensure the widest possible participation in decision making,'' Smyth said.
According to ITI chairperson Martin Naughton, bringing benefit to every person on the island will only happen if everyone is ready to play their part. Assembly minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment Reg Empey, speaking at the Roadshow launch last week, urged us all to ``climb on board''.
Now that we are all on the train, the next stop is to let all passengers decide where it is we are all going.
InterTradeIreland - the work so far
InterTradeIreland has been studying the possibilities of greater industry co-operation in higher education. ITI recommends a cross-border joint research fund as well as an all-island technology development programme, an all-island Intellectual Property Rights service and an integrated North-South science parks and innovation centres network.
The need for developing an all-Ireland market for equity and venture capital has also been examined by the ITI and preliminary work has started on maximising the potential of e-commerce on the island.
ITI is also working towards creating an all-island virtual infrastructure, linking all the economic development agencies and enterprise departments. This will enable the sharing of information and make an unprecedented amount of data available to enhance business development on the island.
Measuring the exact amount of cross-border trade is ``central to the remit of InterTradeIreland''. The body ``intends to be the key agency for the understanding and awareness of trade and related economic and business data''.
other important element of the work of ITI is what the body calls the ``supply chain challenge''. Many larger firms have in recent years rationalised their supplier base. This puts many small companies dependent on larger businesses especially in the retail sector effectively out of business.
InterTradeIreland has produced a report that recommends establishment of a new body called Supply Ireland, a ``unit independent of existing government agencies'' whose role would be to recruit qualified suppliers while developing matchmaker programmes between them and potential product purchasers. The agency would also provide a benchmark for all-island suppliers.
Other work currently being done by the agency includes studying certification and accreditation services on an all-island basis as well as North-South testing and analytical services.
In the near future, ITI is, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterporise Development Unit, publishing an overview of the retail market in Ireland.