Profitability makes it one of our most prized assets
The trade figures from Belfast Harbour offer a confident sign of economic recovery. Whether trade is measured by tonnage, containers or freight vehicles shipped, the results for the full 2014 year are buoyant.
Over 125,000 containers and over 476,000 freight vehicles passing through one port in one year is impressive. Both sets of figures are more than 2% higher than those of 2013.
Sea-borne trade in heavy materials remains critical to local business. It is no surprise that Belfast Harbour specifically notes increasing trade in steel and paper products.
Equally, as a quirk of the changes in the market for energy, Northern Ireland is now increasing the amount of coal imported - some from South America - for Kilroot power station.
A more surprising feature of trade in 2014 has been the increase in the export of stone from Northern Ireland quarries.
The trade details from Belfast Harbour become available before the financial accounts are finalised. However, there is an expectation that 2014 has been another financially successful year.
The Harbour is one of the most profitable businesses in Northern Ireland and profits may come close to, or exceed, the £27m earned in 2013.
The impact of the Belfast Harbour on the wider economy is growing. The annual investment programme, financed from retained profits, is making the port more competitive. The Harbour Commission is an ambitious developer both in terms of facilities to handle freight and people as well as attracting businesses to the large, modern estate.
The new City Quays projects for hotels, offices and warehousing are an indication of a willingness to play a larger part in the development of Belfast.
Belfast Harbour is an increasingly valuable asset. With the legal status of a Trust Port, it is not directly responsible to Northern Ireland ministers. The shared interest, at present, is that as a successful port it should be a vehicle to contribute to a stronger local economy.
- John Simpson is an economist