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Exports rise for Northern Ireland firms, but 'not enough' outside UK

By John Mulgrew and PA

Northern Ireland manufacturers are experiencing strong export growth but not enough are selling outside the UK and Ireland, it has been claimed. Across the UK, manufacturers enjoyed their biggest jump in export growth for six years thanks to a healthy appetite for British goods from non-EU buyers, a report said.

Export orders had lifted by 22% in the first quarter of this year - their highest level since April 2011 - despite Brexit-induced cost pressures continuing to bite, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "Exports are strong and we would expect a further rise in the value to be reported locally.

"However, only a small proportion of firms actually sell to markets abroad so most manufacturers are enduring input prices which have risen almost 23% in the past year without seeing much of that recovered in output prices.

"Our call is for firms to get exporting, even if this is for the first time, and take advantage of the price of current competitiveness, then spend time building and locking in those relationships."

The industrial trends survey, which covers 397 manufacturers, said sterling's slump since the Brexit vote had caused unit costs to reach a six-year high in the three months to April.

However, the costs squeeze failed to hold back domestic orders, which rose at their fastest pace since July 2014 at 20% over the period.

British manufacturers are enjoying a sweet spot, as the UK remains a member of the European single market while the Brexit-hit pound boosts demand for goods by making them cheaper for overseas buyers.

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said cost pressures remained at large despite the strong performance from export orders.

"UK manufacturers are enjoying strong growth in demand from customers in the UK and overseas, and continue to ramp up production," she said.

"Exports have surged and firms are at their most optimistic about selling overseas in four decades.

"Even so, the combination of the weak pound and recovering commodity prices means that cost pressures continue to build, and manufacturers report no sign of them abating over the near-term."

The report also showed average unit costs had soared with a reading of 45%, while average domestic prices also saw a rapid rise at 27%.

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