Belfast Telegraph

Exports are key to getting province out of the recession, states report

By Heather McGarrigle

Business confidence is steady in Northern Ireland - but a rise in exports is needed to end the downturn, said the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's survey of nearly 500 companies found 70% expected steady or increased turnover over the next 12 months.

Two-thirds said sales had either risen or stayed the same in the last three months, with 57% reporting orders had either increased or remained the same.

The level of export sales decreased slightly during the last three months, with 30% reporting order levels increasing or staying the same, down from 33% in the second quarter.

Export orders have also declined. Over a quarter said they expected increased or static order levels, down 4% from expectations between April and June 2011.

Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said Northern Ireland firms were doing well, but that an export strategy was vital.

She said: "While the environment ahead is challenging, and a number of wider UK indicators are worrying, the survey results show that businesses here continue to perform.

"Northern Ireland will only exit the current downturn with a dedicated focus on increasing capacity to export among our indigenous companies and on developing export markets.

"While this decrease in export sales and export orders can to some extent be explained by ongoing difficulties in the Republic of Ireland, it is vital that government support is targeted at supporting our exporters and widening their markets."

James Devlin, head of BT Business NI said: "There's no doubt that it's a particularly challenging time for businesses across Northern Ireland but there are also opportunities both locally and internationally for growth."