Exports remain key to reviving economy
The Northern Ireland economy needs to export more if it is to become less dependent on the public sector and boost what is currently one of the lowest levels of productivity in the UK.
Those are the findings of independent research carried out by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and revealed at a round-table discussion in conjunction with Danske Bank with some of our biggest exporters.
It found that only 2% of Northern Ireland's registered business base are active exporters and those which are sending goods and services overseas are concentrating too much on a small number of markets.
Over one third of exports from here are sent to the Republic, 9% to the US, 6% to Canada.
The top 10 exporters account for half of all sales outside the country. Three-fifths of exports are made by foreign direct investors, those with overseas owners.
At the Chamber of Commerce round table, 22 exporters said there were a number of ways for businesses here to boost exports.
They included closer links between business and both further and higher education facilities, the need for both trained and educated staff, a focus on finance and supporting potential exporters, and and attempt to reduce production costs here.
Patsy McGlone MLA, chair of the Stormont Enterprise Committee, also chaired the event.
"In the current climate, we cannot rely on foreign direct investment to grow our economy and assist economic recovery," he said.
"We must make every effort to nurture, encourage and support new and existing indigenous businesses to develop an exporting culture."
He said potential exporters needed support from banks. "Local businesses plan to be here for the long term. They are integrated into local communities. But, while their commitment is more than financial, they need positive support from banking and finance sectors.
"Businesses must compete where appropriate, but they must also be encouraged to collaborate to export where it is in their interests to do so. We all have responsibilities to support and encourage them to benefit our economy."
Seamus Connolly, Managing Director of Fast Engineering, said there's no time to wait.
"Global trade is changing so fast we can't afford to be parochial, we must export or die," he said.
Total export sales by manufacturing companies in Northern Ireland equated to £12.9bn in 2011-12, an increase of 6.1% (£742m) over the year, according to the Department of Entreprise, Trade and Investment. Manufacturing sales made outside NI have returned to levels above the peak of such activity recorded in 2008-9, it said. Sales outside the UK (exports) were estimated to be worth £5.2bn in 2011-12, up 8.9%. These figures don't include the export of services from here