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Speaker Boehner’s visit to Ireland shows 'first hand knowledge' and close relationship with Taoiseach Back
The true significance of the recent visit to Ireland by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives has not been lost on either side of the Atlantic, writes John Stanley. Having played a key role in giving the US President the authority needed to negotiate important new trade agreements with Asia and Europe, John Boehner grabbed the opportunity to visit Ireland, play a round of golf with his friend Enda Kenny and preach the gospel on the current trade negotiations with the EU. It is estimated that Irish exporters currently pay EUR 300 million in tariffs to the US Treasury - ‘These barriers inhibit exports from Ireland', said Irish MEP Brian Hayes in the debate on the issue in the European parliament this month.
The headline on the Washington Post ‘In the Loop’ column on July 8th read: "John Boehner skipped America’s birthday to hang in Ireland". Around the same time Peter Keegan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Country Executive for Ireland, told Finance Dublin: "The fact he chose to come here, the way he spoke about Ireland with genuine warmth and with first hand knowledge, the real relationship he has with the Taoiseach - you just cannot buy that."
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The Taoiseach Enda Kenny greeting John Boehner at the start of his July 4th visit to Ireland.

Boehner, the second most powerful American politician as the House Majority leader, led a week long congressional delegation to Central and Eastern Europe, taking in Lithuania, Finland and Poland. The addition of Ireland at the end of this itinerary was Boehner's idea, and his alone, sources indicate. This decision meant he and six congressional colleagues would forsake spending Independence Day at home. That alone speaks volumes.

Media coverage in Ireland of this "condel" visit has mainly focused Boehner's comments about the estimated 50,000 Irish working illegally in the US and his commitment to doing something about them, delivered in his address to the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, in Dublin on July 3. "I've been trying now for over four years to address immigration reform. It's really a thorny issue in the United States, but it is time to get it resolved," he said.

Less attention, however, has been given to his remarks about imminent US international trade negotiations, a topic of considerable interest to anyone interested in the development of the Irish economy. Indeed, it would appear that one of the primary purposes of this visit was to increase Ireland's understanding of these negotiations and possibly to stimulate support for the US position in a European country he openly refers to as "family".

In his address to the Chamber Speaker Boehner said: "Europe understands that trade is good for Europe. I've spent over 20 years trying to build a stronger transatlantic relationship, something that would lead to a discussion that we're actually having today with regard to TTIP (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

"Every American President over the last 50 years has had a trade promotion authority (TPA), the ability to go out and negotiate a trade agreement on behalf of the United States and then let Congress have an up or down vote ... if you want to get the best deal you have to give the President the authority to go and negotiate it,” he said.

After "a pretty tough battle over the last two or three months" a bipartisan effort had resulted in this authority, which had lapsed in 2007, once again being granted to the President. "It will lead, in my estimation, to an agreement with the Asians (Trans-Pacific Partnership or TTP) and will lead to an agreement on TTIP," he said.

He cautioned against underestimating some of the difficulties. "I've been through these trade agreements over the 25 years I've been in Congress and none of them are easy," he said. "But we'll get through this and I think everyone understands the big picture. Coming to an agreement, expanding the relationship between Europe and the United States in terms of trade, is in everybody’s best interests and I think frankly we're going to get there." Some estimates suggest that TTIP and TPP could together increase the world’s annual output by as much as $600 billion a year.

For the US domestic audience the stated aims of both TTP and TTIP are the opening up of growing markets to “Made in America” exports, protection of American jobs and ensuring that America, not its competitors, sets the "rules of the road" on trade.

But both agreements have potentially far greater global significance. TPP is an ambitious, "next generation" trade agreement that would link many of the large economies of the Pacific rim, including America, Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico, which between them account for about 40% of global GDP and one-third of world trade.

Significantly for Ireland - given both its current and potential future participation in international traded services in general and financials in particular – TPP is specifically intended to boost trade in services, which account for most of rich countries’ GDP but only a small share of their trade.

Furthermore, as The Economist recently noted, "if the countries of the TTIP and the TPP agree on standards for components of services trade (by agreeing to mutual recognition of certain regulatory approval processes, in medical services, for instance) those rules could effectively function as global standards, given the large share of world GDP adhering to them. That, in turn, would deny the large and growing Chinese economy the opportunity to establish its preferred rules as the global benchmark."

It is trade agreements such as these, therefore, which provide the foundations for global economic development and long-term prosperity. Such agreements matter.

Mark Redmond, Chief Executive of AMCHAM Ireland, said that the visit by Boehner was a "landmark event" in the Chamber's history and a tremendous opportunity for Ireland to deepen its relationship with the US. "I would imagine he sees Ireland as a key supporter (of trade negotiations)," Redmond told Finance Dublin.

"I think the fact that this is very much a two way street is important. Irish US trade has been spectacularly successful and while Irish companies employ 140,000 people here it hadn't escaped his attention that Irish companies employ over 80,000 people in the US," Redmond said.

As a Republican, Boehner believes as passionately in the value of free trade internationally as he does in the importance of the free market economy within the US. And he is also surprisingly passionate about America's relationship with Ireland and his own personal relationship with Enda Kenny.
In a press release issued by his office Boehner spoke of the Irish as being America's "dearest and oldest friends.” In a blog about his visit he wrote: "We are blessed to have such courageous and determined allies as the Irish people. Before our country was even a country, Ben Franklin said Ireland would be 'disposed to be friends of America.' But with all we’ve weathered together  -  and all the work that lies ahead  -  we know that it’s more than that. It’s blood. It’s family."

Speaking about his relationship with the Taoiseach, he said: ‘We met each other right at the beginning of our terms and hit it off spectacularly well. I've got to say, I'm a big fan of his. He's a funny guy, a serious guy but somebody I can work pretty closely with.’ Boehner also brought his own golf clubs for a round of 18 holes with Kenny at Lahinch, underscoring the closeness of the personal relationship between the two.

Even if one suspects there's a touch of plamas in Boehner's remarks, this closeness between individuals also matters. Having such a friend on the Hill, one who will take the phone call, who will listen and try to understand, is the lifeblood of good economic and political relations. As Peter Keegan put it to Finance Dublin: "We often talk about the close relationship between Ireland and America but the visit of someone of this stature really does make it tangible."
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