Thu 10th May 2018
April 2018: Recent figures from the NISRA give an insight into the performance of the local economy.
Ellvena Graham, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Recent figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRA) give an insight into the performance of the local economy.
The Agency’s Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index (NICEI), which outlines how the economy has performed in quarter up to the end of 2017, reveals the region’s total output grew in that period compared to the previous quarter, albeit by less than half of one percent, but that is mirrored by the other GB regions and cuts across all sectors.
However when compared with the rest of the UK over the whole of 2017, where growth stands at 1.4%, we actually went backwards, with output down since the start of the year. Being realistic about it, our economic recovery is at best stagnant.
On a more optimistic note, NISRA has also reported that up to 2016 external sales by Northern Ireland firms are sitting at an all-time high of £24.1 billion.
Just over a third of that trade is to markets outside of the UK with the remaining £14 billion going to customers in Britain, while £3.4 billion of export trade makes its way across the frictionless soft border into the Republic of Ireland. The current EU market is currently worth £5.7 billion in sales for Northern Ireland.
Given that these figures cover the period right up to the EU referendum, it serves to underline just how important the ‘home’ export market will continue to be for Northern Ireland firms. It is probably natural for local businesses to look for sales to those markets on our doorsteps, be that in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. The same language, same culture, and readily accessible markets geographically all adds to a relatively straightforward means of conducting export business.
We know of course that selling beyond the UK market is about to get a lot more complicated, no matter how the ongoing Brexit negotiations eventually conclude.
Both sets of NISRA figures are very valuable in illustrating firstly exactly the shape of our economy (not strong enough), and secondly where the opportunities and challenges lie. Northern Ireland firms currently sell some volume of goods and services to virtually every single country in the European Union. That’s the current opportunity.
Somewhere in Northern Ireland today a product is being shipped off not only to our biggest EU mainland markets which are Germany (£569 million) and France (£489 million), but business is also being done at a lower level with Romania, Hungary, Finland among others, all ranging in the tens of millions of pounds. Planning for those export sales in a post Brexit era is the challenge, and one which our businesses must be preparing for at this stage.