Last week, I had the enormous privilege of leading an international showcase, which saw NI Chamber and Dublin Chamber visit Toronto and Washington as part of a joint initiative to promote Northern Ireland and Ireland as great places to do business.
Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, ‘Advantage’ was focused on how we go purposefully, positively forward in 2023. The team spent two days in Toronto and three in Washington, with the objective of using the anniversary of the agreement as an opportunity to re-focus international attention on the island of Ireland as a place to trade with and invest in.
Unique, unfettered and flexible access to the EU and UK markets means this is the only jurisdiction in the world where businesses can sell into GB and the EU free of customs and regulatory barriers. The international stakeholders, business people and political leaders we met last week were interested, well-informed and positive about the opportunities this opens up. Now, we must quickly turn our attention to turning this unique position into an advantage that delivers optimal outcomes for Northern Ireland’s economy. With the right approach, there are real opportunities to be grasped in high-growth areas like life sciences, advanced manufacturing and in our world leading agri-food industry.
In Toronto, we visited the Brampton innovation district, where our discussions and knowledge- sharing focused on why Northern Ireland is the ideal place for innovative firms to test new ideas. Northern Ireland is often described as ‘neither too big nor too small’, and in many respects, is just right for testing innovative concepts across a range of high growth industries and sectors.
From fintech and cybersecurity to low carbon technology, Northern Ireland is leading the way by using size to its advantage. Whilst we are making excellent progress, there is still much we can learn from international models. In Brampton, we were fortunate to be invited to learn about the infrastructure, incubator support and re-skilling programmes which are being developed to support the growth of the tech sector there.
During our time in Washington, we set-up a series of direct engagements, including an important meeting with Senator Chris Murphy in Capitol Hill and conversations with Joe Kennedy III, the recently appointed Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. We were also pleased to be guests of both the British Embassy and the Irish Embassy, as well as the Northern Ireland Bureau. Personally, the highlight of the trip was the opportunity to represent NI Chamber and our members at a St Patrick’s Day Reception in the White House. That was an exceptional and very proud occasion for me as the President of a highly regarded business organisation.
Over the course of the week, we experienced incredible goodwill towards Northern Ireland; perceptions are overwhelmingly positive. In both Canada and the USA, we experienced the depth of support for our peace, as well as for our economic growth and prosperity. Internationally, there is recognition of the mutual benefits which exist for those who invest here and help us realise the advantages of the Windsor Framework. Investors are interested in our people and skills, our universities and the eco-system which exists here.
Whilst our challenges our well documented, as a place to do business, we are energised by the knowledge that our reputation is strong. Northern Ireland’s proven capacity to change, pivot and innovate is admired. We have a strong and proud reputation for finding a way through – in fact it’s why we have some of the most innovative companies in the world on our doorstep.
With an expected Presidential visit ahead of us, the eyes of the world will be on Northern Ireland over the coming weeks. It is an incredible opportunity for us all; businesses, politicians and communities to collectively showcase all that is good about Northern Ireland as a place to work, live and invest in. At NI Chamber, we are certainly looking forward to the opportunity to build on the new connections made over the course of last week and will work hard to use the occasion for maximum business benefit.