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Trade with EU nations has dropped 4.6% in last year

By Yvette Shapiro

Amid growing debate about the impact of a Brexit on Northern Ireland's exports to Europe, new government figures show trade with the EU is falling.

Exports to our biggest trading partner, the Republic of Ireland, have fallen by more than 8% during the past year.

A third of all goods produced here were sold south of the border in 2015, but overall sales dropped from £2.29bn to £2.11bn last year. Exports to the European Union as a whole fell by 4.6%, to £3.46bn.

The figures, published by HMRC, revealed that exports to non-EU countries were up by more than a fifth, with a huge surge in sales to the United States - up by almost 73% to £1.11bn, an increase of £471m. Exports to South Korea rose by £47m, a three-fold increase.

Growth in these non-EU markets helped Northern Ireland's total exports rise by 5.8% to £6.32bn during 2015.

The HMRC report said: "The Irish Republic continued to dominate Northern Ireland's export market, despite its share decreasing from 38% to 33% during the year. This was the main reason why Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of export trade with the EU in comparison with the other UK countries."

Chemicals and related products experienced the largest increase in exports during the year, up 42%.

The largest decrease was for food and live animals, down 12%, which will be a cause for concern for the agri-food industry in the Year of Food 2016.

The report said exports of meat and prepared meat products were down by £84m, a drop of 21%. Sales of dairy products and eggs fell by £61m or 17%.

Earlier this week, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment launched the Export Matters action plan, which contains an ambitious target to grow the value of exports by 80% within the next decade.

This goal is based on the planned cut in the level of corporation tax to 12.5%, due to come into effect in 2018.

Launching the plan, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said export-led growth was "essential to the development of economic growth and helps underpin sustainable job opportunities which can have a substantial ripple effect across the economy".

£3.46bn

Value of Northern Ireland's total exports to the EU during 2015

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