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Companies urged not to abandon trade ties with Libya

By Clare Weir

Published 03/05/2011

Northern Ireland companies have been urged not to turn their backs on Libya as fighting continues in the war-torn north African country.

Battles have been raging in Libya's capital Tripoli and other areas for over two months and Invest NI has already postponed a trade mission which was due to take place in June.

CIGA Healthcare, a self-diagnostic test firm outside Ballymena, secured its first business in Libya earlier this year following a partnership agreement with Jafara, a pharmaceuticals business in Tripoli.

Neill Armstrong, CIGA sales director, said that Northern Ireland businesses should not give up hope either for the people of Libya and continue to see the country as a place to invest, despite the turmoil.

"People used to say that Northern Ireland was an awful, violent place, but it settled down here and it will settle down in Libya too. People just have to be patient," he said.

"It is frustrating from a business point of view as Jafara had a good deal and we had a good deal, but the people are more important. Libya is very like Northern Ireland in terms of small, family-run firms and Jafara is run by a father and his two sons, something very similar to ourselves.

"However, we just have to be patient and hope everyone is safe. There is a curfew and email communication is at a premium so all we look forward to is regular contact, just a few lines letting us know that everyone is OK."

Mr Armstrong said that the country has immense untapped potential.

"As I understand it the country is split in two at the moment, but long term, things will get better," he said.

"There are of course huge reserves of oil and gas, but the people are so friendly and there is great tourism potential. Their hotels put ours to shame.

"Libyan people are desperate to embrace Western culture. Northern Ireland companies should be keen to invest there and not abandon Libya because of the violence, and should be equally keen to invite Libyan companies here."

CIGA, which employs 15 people, had predicted that their exports to global markets, including the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, were likely to provide up to 10% of the firm's business over the next year.

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