Belfast Telegraph

Could this be our next big trading partner?

By Margaret Canning

Bankrupt ex-billionaire Sean Quinn and the legal struggle over ownership of his former shopping mall in Kiev may currently provide the dominant story concerning Northern Ireland and Ukraine.

But the Ukraine's Ambassador to the UK has been in Northern Ireland for the last two days to encourage more productive business links between the two regions.

The former Soviet Union republic is also under pressure to improve its democratic standards as part of a bid to secure a free trade agreement with the EU and ultimately, EU membership.

During a short visit to the province, Volodymyr Khandogiy (below) met the first and deputy first ministers, the Speaker of the Assembly Willie Hay and Invest NI.

He said he wanted to increase trade between Northern Ireland and the Ukraine – and that there was already almost £20m worth of goods sent by Northern Ireland to Ukraine.

Renewable energy – Ukraine is highly dependent on gas from Russia, the dangers of which were highlighted when supplies were turned off in 2009 – is one area where Ukraine is hoping to attract investment. Mr Khandogiy said it also hopes to attract investment in its steel-making facilities, which need modernisation.

According to HMRC, the total value of manufacturing exports from Northern Ireland to Ukraine during 2011-12 was £18.4m. This is a 94% increase on the previous year. Exports from the machinery and transport equipment sector contributed £10.1m towards this total.

Mr Khandogiy, a former acting foreign minister in Ukraine, said: "Honestly speaking, relationships between the Ukraine and Northern Ireland are not very active these days due to various reasons.

"Relationships with the UK in general are very good, both politically and economically, but until recently Northern Ireland did not play a visible role really in this relationship. That is why I am here.

"This is a trip to Northern Ireland to try to establish contacts and find out opportunities for both sides to develop relationships, mostly in the economic area."

He said he hoped that a small delegation of business people from Northern Ireland would soon visit the Crimea region in an "exploratory" private visit, with an official trade mission to follow some time in the future. He said he had also met DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and and former Ulster Unionist MP Lord Kilclooney about trade links.

Belfast Telegraph