A lack of exporting prowess is hampering firms on both sides of the border from contributing to economic recovery, it's been claimed.
Cross-border business body, InterTradeIreland, said almost two-thirds of businesses across the island do not export, putting heavy responsibility for economic recovery on those that do sell their goods overseas. According to the body, governments north and south have recognised that exports would be a "key driver" of economic recovery.
In research document 'Analysis of the key features of an exporting SME on the island of Ireland,' InterTrade said it took driven and ambitious business leaders to decide to export and that strategic planning and innovation were needed to make a success of it.
And selling their goods across the border was the first step in to exporting for three-quarters of businesses, as the experience was a stepping-stone to further export markets.
Nearly two-thirds of the exports of small firms in Northern Ireland go to the Republic, while almost a sixth of the exports of small firms in Ireland go the opposite direction.
Over one-third (35%) of those businesses with existing cross-border or off-island sales have expanded in to additional markets in the past three years and 42% of all firms surveyed are actively looking to develop new or further export markets.
Exporting firms were more innovative, strategic and ambitious and were also confident about their abilities.
They were also more likely to have a written business plan, according to InterTrade.
But at the outset, new exporters were not doing exporting in a strategic way but were ad-hoc and opportunistic about the process.
Northern Ireland accounted for just 1.5% of goods exports from Ireland in 2012. However, for exports from Northern Ireland the Irish market is very important, accounting in 2011-12 for almost a quarter (24.2%) of exports, nearly the same as sales to the rest of the EU combined (26.5%).