Go east and sell to the China market - 'willing buyers for Northern Ireland goods'
The Northern Ireland economy could receive a huge boost if more businesses explored export opportunities to China.
That was the message from Stephen Phillips (below), chief executive of the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC). He said that while exports to China have more than tripled in the last year, there is potential for much more.
"There are more opportunities in nearly every sector of the Chinese economy," he told the Belfast Telegraph on a visit to Belfast. "Good quality goods and services, not of the cheap and cheerful varity, will find a willing audience as China's affluence grows."
He pointed out that exports from Northern Ireland to China were worth £56.8m in the first nine months of 2012, more than three times the £16.7m exported for all of 2011.
Of that, we export £8.8m worth of animal hides to make leather, £4.4m in power-generating equipment and £7m in electronic control equipment.
Despite the improvement, China only accounts for 1.3% of all exports from these shores compared to a UK average of 4.3%.
While we export £186m worth of "beverages", mostly alcohol, and £256m in pharmaceuticals, none makes their way to China, a market with a growing thirst for both.
Mr Phillips said there were good opportunities for the food sector also, with more discerning Chinese consumers keen to buy high-end products.
He also said that with the fastest growing aviation sector in the world, China is a rich export market, not just for the likes of Bombardier which already has an operation in region, but also for the many other aerospace companies in Northern Ireland. Other areas where demand for imported goods from the UK remains high in China are education from primary up to university level; financial and professional services, including legal and financial services; and the creative industries, such as software development, IT and architecture.
And Mr Philips said Northern Ireland companies trying to break into the Chinese market should consider the so-called second and third tier cities such as Baotou, Dongguan and Wuhan in the central and western districts of China rather than the more developed cities on the eastern seaboard.
The China-Britain Business Council helps UK companies grow and develop their business with China and works in collaboration with Invest NI in the region.