Tue 27th Sep 2016
October 2016: Export drives business growth
Earlier this month Economy Minister Simon Hamilton was in Germany promoting local businesses, the First Minister Arlene Foster was in the USA doing likewise, and the Executive hosted a seminar on exporting at Stormont, where Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, who has recently been appointed as the UK trade ambassador to Egypt, was a speaker.
All of this activity points to a welcome focus being put on exporting as a means of growing local businesses and growing our economy. Simon Hamilton said: “Growing our exports is critical to growing local business and transforming Northern Ireland into a globally competitive economy.”
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry agrees with this wholeheartedly. In fact our absolute focus and priority has been on growing exports over the last 6 years and more. Our own home market is naturally small and restricted and while we have a number of forward and outward looking businesses they must seek to export their goods and services if they are to flourish.
The Chamber first ran a specific Export Support programme at the beginning of the decade. It was a dedicated programme of practical support, mentoring and signposting, all aimed at firstly instilling confidence in our SMEs that exporting is an option and secondly letting them see how it has been done successfully by similar companies in their sectors and others.
Two years ago we published a policy document called ‘Exporting – the challenge’ which called on the Executive to adopt and implement an Export Strategy with specific targets and support programmes to help deliver the outcomes. That received a positive response from the Executive and now we have the Export Matters strategy – a joint programme of work which involves the Department for the Economy, Invest NI and IntertradeIreland and has a target of increasing the value of sales external to Northern Ireland by 80 per cent over the next 9 years to 2025.
The latest export figures released by HMRC show that throughout the regions of the UK, only Northern Ireland showed an increase in export trade in the year to June 2016. While we are admittedly coming off a lower base, that progress is very welcome. The same set of statistics showed that while our neighbours in England, Wales and Scotland continue to sell to the USA more than any other export market, our biggest customer is still the Republic of Ireland.
That points to the obvious advantage of having a neighbouring trading partner with no land border and essentially operating in the same business and cultural environment. Whatever the impact of the referendum and the outworking of the Brexit negotiations over time, that export market will remain.
Export drives business growth. Be assured that NI Chamber will keep exporting as our key focus in the months and years ahead.
Nick Coburn, President, NI Chamber