Belfast Telegraph

Go east not west for a new export market

By David Elliot

'confidence is key." How many times have you heard that phrase bandied about in the last few years? If you've been reading anything in relation to the economy then pretty much at every turn. From shop owners to web designers, from heavy engineering companies to theatres, a lack of confidence has been blamed on reduced turnover and reduced profits.

Both consumers and companies, looking at the prospects for the coming year, have been holding the purse strings tight, worried about spending any spare funds in case the second leg of the dreaded double dip recession really does drop. Of course, that's suggesting that people have spare cash to spend or indeed any cash to keep their businesses stocked and in good order.

Data just released doesn't point to a let-up any time soon with UK consumer confidence at a level only seen twice in the last 37 years, according to PwC, a company which knows its onions when it comes to statistics. On both those occasions the dip preceded a global recession. Enough said?

Well lets not get carried away. PWC's learned economist Esmond Birney now reckons the double dip is not inevitable but certainly remains a significant possibility and one which no-one should feel immune from.

Now I know what you're thinking, that there's little chance of any of us getting carried away with all this negative news bombarding us every day.

But there can sometimes be a delay before it hits home that the goings on in the wider economy could impact our own businesses.

To head this off - and continuing yesterday's call to action in this very column - he has given geographical direction to Northern Ireland's willing band of exporters. He reckons we should be looking beyond the usual suspects when it comes to tracking down buyers for our goods and services, and focusing on those with healthier prospects.

Our exporters should diversify away from the Republic, Great Britain, even the US and the Eurozone because all these countries are showing weak consumer and business confidence, Mr Birney said.

Advising a move beyond the Eurozone and the US is quite a statement to make, given that for years both have been the holy grail of the exporting market. But it makes sense in the circumstances when growth in both these regions in the last few years has paled in comparison the likes of India and China, both regions that Mr Birney suggests we should be targeting with our goods and services.

Heading east is not a new thought but there's certainly never been as much reason or urgency to eke out new markets than there is now.

Oiling the wheels (or fueling the 747) for that particular process is laid at the door of our leaders in Stormont and, while there's no doubt Invest NI is expert in leading trade missions to further afield regions such as these, there's nothing to stop any of us making our own way in the exporting field.

And why not get creative and join the band of companies waiting to satisfy a flood of demand from the likes of Libya?

We can but try.