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Stockpiling for Brexit drives up Northern Ireland production

Richard Ramsey
Richard Ramsey
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Brexit stockpiling has produced significant production spikes in key sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, new official Government figures suggest.

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Manufacturing of chemical and pharmaceutical products increased by 26.6% in the first three months of the year. It pushed the annual output in the sector, which includes major firms such as Almac, Randox and Norbrook, up by 10.9% year-on-year to reach a record high.

Similarly, output in the basic and fabricated metal products sector increased by 19.1% year-on-year, hitting record levels.

Textiles, leather and related products grew by 31.3% over the year, a 12-year high for the sector.

The figures were published in the latest Northern Ireland production index, which showed that output in the sector as a whole increased by 1.7% in the first three months and 2.3% over the year.

But a report into the services industries revealed a contrasting picture, with the sector slowing by 0.4% in the first three months. Although still up 0.7% on the same period last year, the wholesale and retail trade, motor repair, accommodation and food service sectors all slowed in the first quarter.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the reports revealed the contrasting fortunes for the industrial and services sectors here. The 0.4% fall in output for services in the first quarter represented a fall from the 10-year high recorded at the end of 2018.

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"Weakness within consumer-sensitive sectors such as retail was one key factor behind this," said Mr Ramsey. But he added that the 2.2% quarterly growth (3.1% year-on-year) in the business services and finance sector provided some encouragement.

However, he said the closure of the Michelin tyre plant in Ballymena last year was still reverberating through the record low output recorded in the manufacture of rubber, plastic and other non-metallic mineral products. It contrasted to the "spectacular" growth seen in other manufacturing sectors.

"Stockpiling ahead of the initial Brexit deadline of March 29 is clearly a factor behind these whopping rates of growth. Furthermore, this flatters the overall performance of the manufacturing sector and private sector output as a whole," he said.

"These rates of growth are not sustainable and have effectively stolen growth from the future. We therefore expect to see significant falls in Q2 reflecting a winding down of these stockpiles."

Belfast Telegraph