Belfast Telegraph

Economists' report urges cross-border trade zone

By Heather McGarrigle

Northern Ireland's border towns could be boosted by a "special cross-border development zone", according to a new report.

The study was published by the Centre for Cross Border Studies (CCBS), an organisation which researches and develops co-operation across the Irish border in a number of areas.

Entitled 'cross-border economic renewal: rethinking regional policy in Ireland', the report recommends co-operation to maximise resources and increase export sales.

Its authors were Dr John Bradley, formerly of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, and Professor Michael Best of University of Massachusetts Lowell and Cambridge University.

The economists report a speech by the former Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Ireland managing director Padraic White at a recent CCBS conference. The former chief of Ireland's agency for attracting foreign direct investment said: "The immediately adjoining border areas have common economic threats but also a strong interest in maximising joint strengths."

The report sets out four key sources of growth, recommended by Mr White to form the basis of a strategic cross-border development plan for the border region.

They were: SME enterprise with export potential, tourism and recreation, agriculture and food processing and green initiatives, such as renewable energy and low carbon projects.

Mr White also suggested that district councils and counties along the 'border development zone' could drive economic development by "cooperation and sharing successful ideas".

Dr Bradley and Professor Best said: "The goal of such a border development zone would be to stimulate a form of development that is uniquely adapted to the region, making maximum use of current 'national' resources and stimulating the evolution of local resources and expertise."

They identified the manufacturing and service sectors as having the greatest export potential.

The report concluded that defining the border zone, identifying suitable business sectors for co-operation and carrying out the required policy would all be necessary to ensure the project was "fruitful".

An enterprise zone for Northern Ireland has been a frequent topic of business discussion in recent years. Chancellor George Osborne's most recent Budget hinted at plans to create such a zone here.

Last week, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) slammed proposals to designate Derry an Enterprise Zone, saying the whole of Northern Ireland needed to benefit from such a package of business incentives.

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