“Ireland is a committed member of the EU and we work through the partnership which exists between the EU and India, while at the same time we have our own strategic approach. Sometimes India is a little overshadowed by China and Japan and part of my work here and my team here in India is to raise awareness of India in Ireland and particularly among Irish business people and investors. At the same time, Ireland is rather little known in India and an important role for us is raising that awareness,” Ward told .
“One major factor that we have to deal with is that the United Kingdom has exited EU and for many Indian businesses thinking of a location for presence in Europe, the UK would have been the first choice. Now, a lot of them are looking at Ireland,” he said, on sidelines of an education fair where Ireland promoted itself as a destination for higher studies for Indian students.
The UK had on January 31 formally exited the EU, now a 27-member economic bloc, more than three-and-a-half years after the country voted for it in a referendum in 2016.
The Irish envoy said Ireland and the UK have a common language and his is the only other English-speaking country in Europe besides having a common legal system.
“The Irish and the English common law are pretty much the same as here in India. We are one time zone closer to the American east coast in the way the UK is and of course we have all the advantages of being a member state of the EU and complete free access to the European market,” Ward said.
“We have, in general, a business friendly environment and a very business friendly government. We are promoting all of these aspects with a view to developing relations,” he added.
At present, around 100 Indian companies have a presence in Ireland that ranges from companies which have a small office with half a dozen people up to companies which are employing over a thousand people as part of a global network of business links, the ambassador said.
Asked if there was any surge in Indian companies expressing interest in setting up a base in Ireland ever since the Brexit was announced, Ward responded in the positive and said he, along with his investment officer, has met a number of companies in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai who have been “looking at this option”.
“There are both companies which are currently established in the UK which (wish) to preserve the EU base and….(those) developing their international presence and looking at an EU base,” he added.
The envoy said there is an annual bilateral trade of around Euro 4 billion between India and Ireland, with the balances favouring New Delhi in goods trade and Dublin in services.
“You have to differentiate between our trade in goods, which runs to about one billions euros per year where the balance is heavily in India’s favour. India exports about 750 million euros worth of goods to Ireland each year and imports about 250 million euros worth goods every year,” he said.
“In services, the balance is in the other direction. It’s about 3 billion euros every year with about 2 billion euros being Irish exports to India and one billion being Indian exports to Ireland,” he added.
The opening of an Irish consulate general in Mumbai last year will further boost the growing bilateral ties between the two countries, Ward said.
Projecting Ireland as a higher education destination for Indians, he said there have been concerted efforts to develop educational links since early 1990s.
“Now at the moment, around five to six thousand Indian students are studying at Irish universities and colleges. This number is increasing by 10 per cent on average each year,” he said.
Acknowledging the “enormous” education cost incurred by Indian parents who send their children to Ireland, he said the Irish visa system allows students to work part time to support themselves.
“This is permitted under the Ireland student visa system. Also for graduate students, who complete their masters or doctoral degrees in Ireland they have the right to remain in the country and work for an Irish or any international company for two years after graduation. In parts it helps them pay the enormous cost of education that their parents have incurred,” Ward said.