China more of a competitor to Northern Ireland than a potential export market, claims global financial expert
Northern Ireland's potential to export to China and Asia has been overestimated in EU referendum debates, a global financial expert has warned.
Pro-Brexit groups have said Northern Ireland would be able to export more outside the EU should the UK vote to leave.
However, Alan Werlau, investment strategist at stockbrokers Davy, said the east was not a key area of growth for Northern Ireland exports.
He instead described China as one of the province's "competitors" in global trade.
Companies here have been encouraged to focus on China - and in November former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell told food producers he wanted the province's exports to China to pass £100m a year.
But Mr Werlau said: "Those who want us to leave want us to negotiate trade agreements outside the EU, because they feel EU trade is going down and trade is going up with the world.
"The two they mention the most are China and India, but the structure of Northern Ireland exports is very Eurocentric.
"If anything, Northern Ireland's exports would not go to China, but would actually compete with China, as in the case of manufacturing goods, which are intermediary goods. So I think it's completely at odds with our interests.
"There's definitely a positive trend with Northern Ireland's trade in the EU and a trend that runs counter to what's trying to be accomplished."
Mr Werlau said the percentage of Northern Ireland's trade with the EU had increased slightly over the past 10 years, sitting at just over 60%, while trade with the rest of the world sat below 40%, down slightly on 2004.
Over the same period, the opposite trend had been seen across the UK as a whole. And Mr Werlau claimed that the only winners in a post-EU Britain would be the bankers and accountants.
Mr Werlau said Northern Ireland benefits to the tune of £46-80m each year from the EU.
But he added that the vote was likely to be a more emotive than economic call: "This vote is probably not going to be one about economics.
"Most of the numbers show there is likely to be a negative economic impact - whether that's long-term, or permanent, or medium term.
"But I think that a lot of it will come down to more individuals' views around what they want the country to be about, than what it's going to cost for their pocket."