Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI postpones a trade mission to Libya

By Clare Weir

Invest NI has postponed a trade mission taking Northern Ireland businesses to Libya.

The support body said that the decision was based on Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice which recommends that only essential travel to Libya should be undertaken.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said: "We will monitor the situation closely and reschedule the mission if and when appropriate. Our remaining trade events planned for the wider Gulf region are currently unaffected.

"Invest NI is continuing to monitor developments in the Middle East.

"We also advise companies trading in these markets to monitor the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for up to date travel and UK government guidance."

The trip was scheduled to take place in June 2011. Meanwhile companies with links to Libya and other embattled countries in the Middle East say they are continuing to trade despite the widespread civil unrest.

CIGA Healthcare in Ballymena, a specialist in self diagnostic tests, had predicted that their exports to global markets including the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf were likely to provide up to 10% of the firm's business over the next year.

The firm, which employs 15 people, has taken part in a series of Invest NI missions.

CIGA recently secured its first business in Libya following a partnership agreement with Jafara, a pharmaceuticals business in Tripoli. Neill Armstrong, CIGA sales director, said that while he is concerned about the situation, "business can wait, people can't".

"We have had difficulties in getting in contact with our people over there but I am more worried on a human level than on a business one, it's sad what has happened." he said.

"Yes, things will have to slow down or even stop for a while in terms of our work in Libya but as long as our people are OK we don't really mind, it is just something that we are going to have to accept, to wait and just sit it out.

"When all is said and done, it is a minor inconvenience for us in the short to medium term but this is affecting people's lives in Libya and we like to think that long-term, people will still need and be interested in our products, that they still need these basic facilities.

"People in Libya are interested in western businesses, there is lots of potential in those regions and a welcoming community who want to embrace new business and we have always been treated very well when we have been over there."

Dunmurry-based Silotank is in the process of shipping chemical storage and process vessels to the Egyptian Starch and Glucose Manufacturing Co in a suburb of Cairo, located 10kms from Tahir Square, which was the epicentre of anti-Government protests beamed live across the world.

The firm, which employs 30 people, also exported to Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Libya and Spain in 2010. Seamus Carmichael, managing director of Silotank said that business has been relatively unaffected.

"The vessels we sent over are currently on a boat which sailed out of Southampton at the end of February," he said.

"Our contacts in Egypt did disappear off the face of the earth for 10 days but everything is relatively back to normal there now.

"Our relationships with companies in other countries is good and the trouble did not have an impact on our trading at all."