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Irish Business News Discussion:     American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland

US investment in Ireland is valued at $73 Billion, but that spectacular amount may start to be weaken unless the Irish goverment are more pro active in the new world economy.

Jim O'Hara, the new president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland has called on the Irish Government to commit itself to the 'lowest possible' rate of corporation tax. Jim O'Hara who is also the Intel Ireland general manager said the Irish Government should not be suggesting that the current 12.5% rate was 'as good as it gets', in light of a global trend towards lower tax rates. Ireland faces its most serious challenge yet in trying to attract foreign investment, adding that it had many attractions but was 'moving up the cost league table'.

Key points from the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland new President .

On Irish taxation and American Investment

Ireland's 12.5% corporation tax rate has been of enormous benefit but Ireland cannot afford to become complacent about fair tax competition when other countries are now offering similar, if not better, tax incentives for foreign direct investment
The Government needs to restate it's commitment to the lowest possible tax rate rather than suggesting 12.5% is ‘as good as it gets' particularly in light of the global trend towards lower levels of income tax especially on corporate profits.
The Government must not accept any rolling back of its opposition to EU Tax Harmonisation. The argument that tax harmonisation is necessary for closer European unity, does not stand up to scrutiny. In the United States of America, one of the most successful global economies, there is wide divergence between States in both corporate and individual tax rates. Low taxes are used by States to encourage inward investment and a better spread of economic development.

On Irish Research and Development

Ireland's funding of Science, Technology and Innovation is well below targets set by other EU Member States. The EU target of 3% of GDP must be reached by 2010 and not by 2013 if Ireland is to become a credible location for R&D.
The American Chamber of Commerce advocates the adoption of a volume based tax credit system. It believes such a measure would ensure greater R&D investment by multinational and indigenous companies and is disappointed that the measure was not adopted in the Budget 2007.
Strategic relationships with US firms that would provide access to intellectual property, shared resources and channels to global markets should be pursued. This would provide US firms with a backbone to the global economy. This area needs to be developed if Ireland's indigenous base is to grow and if Ireland is to attract a rich tapestry of small EU ‘IP Driven' technology companies.
The current base of US firms should also be used as a means of growing the indigenous SME base. This requires the development of a unique commercial collaborative environment that encourages US firms to trade IP, that assembles a plethora of small and medium technology companies that feed off that IP, that tailors incentives to encourage these SMEs to attract independent finance and to market their products on the global US MNC backbone.

On Irish Education

The education system is a critical national infrastructure and is a vital input to economic performance but major structural reforms of the education system are needed. Such reforms must address governance, teacher performance, education standards, physical infrastructure and resources.
The battle to encourage students to pursue careers in science and engineering is already being lost in second level education. We need to go back to basics at primary school level and generate excitement about the sciences within the primary system.
The government's strategy, outlined in the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation Report, to double the number of science graduates by 2013 is encouraging, but for this to happen, the increase in student numbers taking science subjects needs to be immediately seen at second level to fill the student supply chain. Significant energy should be expended to drive increased student awareness of opportunities in science and scientific research.

On The Irish National Development Plan

The National Development Plan, due to be unveiled tomorrow, must address the transport, telecom and energy infrastructural deficit and in particular must address the existing imbalance between Dublin and the rest of the country.
Within 3 years, there should be a guaranteed ‘two-hour' access by road to international airports at Cork, Shannon and Dublin. This would address the issue of access, which is a key issue for regionally based US Companies.
In addition to the completion of the Major Inter-Urban (MIUs) network by 2010, the top priority routes for completion by 2010 are the N17/N18 from Shannon to Galway to Tuam, the Galway City by-pass and the entire Cork-Limerick road. To ensure completion of roads ahead of demand, the Limerick-Waterford and Letterkenny-Derry-Dublin routes should be prioritised for completion by 2012.
To facilitate wider availability of crucial broadband services, the Local Loop must be unconditionally opened by Eircom to provide operators with immediate access to its networks. Policies must be introduced which encourage private investment in telecoms infrastructure and introduces a competitive marketplace

"Ireland is a politically stable, pro business, open economy with many attractions and we can be justifiably proud of our success. But we are continually moving up the cost league table and some of our traditional advantages have been eroded". Mr. O'Hara, who is General Manager of Intel Ireland, called for increased focus and urgency to address the weaknesses in Ireland's competitive armoury.

"While a higher cost base is in many ways a product of our economic success we have to adopt strategies that prevent our cost base rising at a pace that outstrips our productivity. Our future success will depend on our ability to compete in the global economy.

In addition to aggressively addressing our cost base, other aspects of our competitive armoury also need urgent attention. Areas of key concern include re-establishing our leadership in post primary education, growing our research and development capability, preserving and expanding a pro - business tax environment that supports the national agenda, and rapidly upgrading our physical and digital infrastructure".

Jim O'Hara said
"The Government is clearly addressing many of these challenges and we are seeing encouraging signs such as the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation, Transport 21 and hopefully in the National Development Plan being published tomorrow. However we need a greater sense of urgency in addressing all of the components that make Ireland an attractive place to do business. For example science in schools has been a topic of concern for many years and international comparisons confirm that Ireland continues to drop down the league tables".

Mr. O'Hara said that the issues we face are not Government's alone. "For example many of our multinational companies have been successful in driving increased productivity to offset our rising cost base and in adapting their business models to allow them to compete successfully in the changing environment. Therefore in seeking solutions, we need to engage all stakeholders including government agencies, academia, and both the multinational and indigenous business sectors", he said.

There are currently over 600 US companies employing close to 100,000 people directly in Ireland with a further 225,000 indirect jobs supported by US companies. In 2006 US firms paid over €2.4 bn to the Irish exchequer in corporate tax and contributed a further €13 bn in expenditure to the Irish economy in terms of payrolls, goods and services employed in their operation.

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