Businesses across Northern Ireland are struggling to tap into international trade opportunities, despite growing optimism about economic prospects.
A study undertaken by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Management Accountants found that global business confidence has moved into positive territory for the first time in five years.
Almost 70% of finance professionals in Northern Ireland and the Republic were optimistic about the state of the economy. However, there were also signs of diminished access to foreign markets.
The level marked an improvement from last year when confidence was put at 65%, in late 2013, according to the latest quarterly Global Economic Conditions Survey.
Following a temporary slowdown in late 2013, cash flow and demand conditions improved substantially in early 2014, and are now stronger than at any time in the last three years.
Similarly, prices and foreign exchange rates are at their most stable for years.
Liz Hughes, head of ACCA Ireland, said: "For the first time in years, respondents are expecting public spending to increase in the medium-term, and confidence in the sustainability of public spending remains high, practically unchanged since late 2013.
"But not all indicators are equally healthy. Access to growth capital improved, but remains highly volatile.
"Business opportunities fell in early 2014, establishing what now appears to be a year-long downward trend."
She said fewer opportunities to explore new markets were evident in the past six months.
"These developments have meant that businesses aren't yet able to capitalise fully on the improved macro-economic outlook," she added.