Northern Ireland exports to the rest of the UK reach a new record, according to figures
Manufacturing sales by Northern Ireland companies to Great Britain have hit a record £8.1bn, provisional figures show.
The Executive's manufacturing sales and exports survey for 2012/13 said sales at home and abroad grew by 1.9% to £16.9bn.
Sales outside Northern Ireland were up 3.2% to £13.3bn – including a 6.2% jump in sales to Great Britain to their highest ever level of £8.1bn, while sales to the Republic of Ireland were up 5.3% to £1.3bn.
Sales to the rest of the world were up just 2% to £2.6bn. The Republic is regarded as an export market in the survey, while Great Britain is not.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the 3.2% increase was "encouraging".
She added: "By this measure we have exceeded the level of the previously recorded peak in external sales activity seen last year. Much of this has been driven by sales to Great Britain, which have reached a record high.
"Exports to the Republic of Ireland also increased over the year and this remains our single largest export market. The value of export sales to the rest of the world have also increased over the period."
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said Great Britain was the only external sales market to have increased for Northern Ireland since the downturn. He said the EU, excluding the Republic, had seen a dip in manufacturing sales of nearly 12% year on year. At £1.2bn, export sales to the rest of the EU were now 25% below 2008/09 levels.
Mr Ramsey said: "Whilst there have been huge efforts by policymakers to encourage local firms to export to markets outside of the UK, Great Britain has been the fastest growing market for Northern Ireland manufacturers following the downturn."
Manufacturing sales to Great Britain were up nearly 23% in real terms since 2007/08, so that the market now accounted for nearly 48% of total manufacturing sales over the last 10 years, Mr Ramsey pointed out.
He said the surge in sales was mainly driven by food and drink. The full breakdown of the survey is not available until next week.
Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said: "The figures illustrate the importance of near markets for Northern Ireland's manufacturing firms and we welcome the strong growth in Great Britain sales and a continued recovery in exports to the Republic of Ireland.
"However we are very concerned that sales to the rest of the EU are falling and growth is slowing in sales to other parts of the world."