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Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am most grateful for the very warm welcome which you have extended to me in the course of my visit and I want to express my pleasure at having the opportunity to visit Osaka, which has long enjoyed a well earned reputation for dynamism and creativity.  Today the city proudly takes its place as one of the leading commercial and industrial centres in the world.

I am, however, at this time very conscious of the shadow which has been cast over the country, and this whole southern region in particular, by the devastating earthquake in the Kobe area last month.  On my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Ireland I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the bereaved and to the great many who have suffered injuries and loss of property.  As we are shocked by the disaster so also do we admire the courage, resilience and community spirit which have characterised the response of the Japanese people at this difficult time.

We in Ireland are no strangers to tragedy and the events in Northern Ireland, in particular over the past twenty five years, have brought great misery and division in their wake.  Today, there is a spirit of optimism that for the first time in a generation the opportunity exists in Ireland to create the basis for a new arrangement, enabling all concerned to emerge from the shadow of a troubled past.  The consequences of such a development will be significant, not alone in human terms but in the new economic opportunities which will arise for trade and investment, both North and South.

Ireland's geographical location has resulted in close ties both with the United States on the one side and with Europe on the other.  A country such as ours, with a small domestic base - our population is 3.5 million - needs to reach out to expand its growth potential in order to develop industry, create jobs and raise living standards.  This we have done with considerable success.  Ireland has performed well in external trade with exports accounting for almost 75% of Gross Domestic Products. 

The pattern of our exports to Japan - worth over $1 billion last year - reflects the dramatic transformation of the Irish economy which has occurred in conjunction with our membership of the European Union, a membership which gives Ireland access to a market of more than 370 million potential customers.  Japan is now Ireland's eight biggest trade market, and Irish exports to Japan have trebled since 1990.  Japan is Ireland's fourth largest source of imports.  However, we believe that there is considerable additional potential for Ireland in developing trade with Japan.

Because of Ireland's special historical and demographic circumstances we have for many years been to the fore of EU member States in the welcome and in the incentives we extend to inward investors.  Over 1,000 foreign companies have chosen Ireland as their manufacturing and exporting base within the enlarging European market.  Of these companies some 40 are Japanese, many of whom are represented here.  It is of interest to note here, in Osaka particularly, with its well known financial services industry, that we have in Dublin developed in recent years our own very successful financial services centre in which a wide range of financial institutions have located, including fifteen from Japan. 

With a young population in Ireland we place great emphasis on the quality and standards of our educational system.  We welcome the programme whereby Irish students and graduates, at present numbering 450, spend time in Japan learning the language, customs and industrial practices, which has greatly assisted co-operation between Japan and Ireland in relation to inward investment.  Those students and graduates are typical of the highly educated, flexible and technologically aware workforce in Ireland.  For example you may be surprised to discover that almost one third of the personal computers and some forty per cent of all European personal computer software are now produced in Ireland by this skilled workforce.

Japan is now one of the world's most important tourism markets and, in recent years, the Irish tourist industry has been seeking to increase the number of Japanese visitors to Ireland.  The economic benefits of tourism are well known.  No less important is the fact that tourism is an ideal way to build goodwill and improve understanding among people.  It allows us to experience each other's culture, tradition and lifestyle in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and contributes to the breaking down of barriers between countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have arrived in your country via the gateway of Osaka, through your new international airport which epitomises the commendable vision of the region, and from here I also depart.  In doing so may I express my conviction that the dynamism, creativity and drive of the people of the Kansai region will continue to ensure that the area plays an increasingly important role in the economy of the country in the years ahead.

Thank you.